After more than 2 years of media reports, US Authorities finally act and order closure of University of Northern Virginia… leaving Indian students searching for answers…

In March 2011 itself, The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article Little-Known Colleges Exploit and covering the Tri-Valley  University  Scam wrote…

More than 30 students are squeezed into a classroom at the University of Northern Virginia, located in a series of office buildings in the suburbs of Washington. Soft drinks have been provided, along with bags of chips, a bowl of salsa, and dozens of cupcakes. But the students, all of them Indian, aren’t interested in the snacks. They have heard about the federal raid at Tri-Valley and have one question: Will their university be next?

It seems that the time has finally arrived after two years and yes; their University too has been ordered closure. To understand the mindset of such institutions, read on to what that article of 2011 reported…

In an attempt to reassure them, Northern Virginia’s chancellor, David V. Lee, explains how the university was extremely careful to follow regulations. He concedes that there had been trouble in the past. A recruiter working for the college in India was “throwing I-20’s up into the air and letting the wind blow them around,” Mr. Lee tells the students. He clarifies later that the recruiter was encouraging applicants to falsify the I-20 immigration documents so they could come to the United States. That recruiter, he says, was let go.

The students seem unsatisfied, grilling officials on the details of the university’s compliance with immigration law. Their suspicions are understandable: Northern Virginia’s business model looks a lot like Tri-Valley’s.

The heart of that model, according to Daniel Ho, its founder and the majority owner, is its ability to enroll foreign students in the United States. Nearly all of its students are here on visas, and the vast majority are from India. Like Tri-Valley, Northern Virginia has students who live in other states, some as far away as New York and Ohio, but university officials insist that, unlike Tri-Valley, those students—most of whom study computer science or business administration—commute regularly to Virginia to attend classes.

Still, much of how the university operates remains unclear. When asked how many students it has, Mr. Lee answers “between 1,000 and 2,000.” According to Virginia government records, the university had 1,216 students this past fall, but that doesn’t take into account the thousands of students working toward Northern Virginia degrees overseas.

How many other so-called partner institutions award University of Northern Virginia degrees? Mr. Lee says the number is four. Mr. Ho says it’s more than 20, though he doesn’t know the exact figure. He says the university graduates students everywhere in the world except for South America and Australia. They have, according to Mr. Ho, more than 2,000 students in China alone.

“We are very big,” Mr. Ho says with understandable pride.

Daniel Ho is an engaging, energetic presence who’s in his mid-50s but seems younger. He is also an entrepreneur with a hand in multiple businesses. Recently he sat down with a reporter in his corner office at UNVA, offering his guest lemon tea and imported pineapple pastries. Mr. Ho is knowledgeable about a range of foodstuffs, in part because he owns three grocery stores in the Washington metropolitan area. The headquarters of his grocery business, Super Q Mart International Food, is in the same building as the university.

Until 2008, UNVA was accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which is federally recognized. That accreditation was revoked, though neither the university nor the council would say why. The university now claims accreditation from the little-known American University Accreditation Council, which is not recognized by the Department of Education. The accreditor, however, has a professional-looking Web site featuring a photograph of new graduates, dressed in caps and gowns, holding their diplomas aloft in front of a billowing American flag. The site also has a photo of a modern office building, presumably its headquarters.

But drive to the address on the contact page and instead you’ll find a bustling auto-body repair shop. That shop, it turns out, is owned by Gary Zhu, acting chairman of the board at UNVA. Reached at the Szechuan-style restaurant he also owns, Mr. Zhu said he’s never attended a board meeting held by American University Accreditation Council, though he did agree to serve on the board. When asked who runs the accreditor, he named Mr. Ho.

Mr. Ho says that’s not true. When told that the electronic file containing the accreditor’s by-laws appears to have been created by him in July 2009, Mr. Ho acknowledges writing the by-laws but says that was the extent of his involvement. He says he hasn’t been in touch with his university’s accreditor in years and can’t name anyone who works there. He is surprised to learn that the headquarters was an auto-body repair shop.

The university says that 357 foreign students are working while attending Northern Virginia; four of those students work in the accounting department at Mr. Ho’s grocery business. While he won’t say exactly how much his university earns, he hints that revenue is well above $10-million a year.

“It is very profitable,” Mr. Ho says, leaning back in his chair. “Very profitable.”

So who is regulating UNVA? In granting approval to admit international students, the federal government relies, in part, on an individual state’s certification that a college meets its requirements to operate.

But even Mr. Ho admits that the agency in Virginia that oversees colleges is “not tough,” though he contends that California is even more lenient. Besides, according to Virginia officials, the state has no authority over the programs the university runs outside its borders. When asked if he could simply sell degrees overseas, Mr. Ho responds, “absolutely” but argues vigorously that he would never endanger his reputation by doing so.

“I can sell degrees. I can sell diplomas. But I won’t,” he says. “Who’s going to supervise me, control me? Myself.” 

Newspapers today are reporting that… the University has been ordered to be closed and students (MOSTLY INDIAN) are once again facing similar dilemmas as they faced when Tri Valley was ordered to be closed.

If you never got to experience the thrill of a fraternity rush at the University of Northern Virginia, the electricity of a basketball game featuring the UNVA Fighting Commuters, or the silent satisfaction of having your F-1 visa application validated, your opportunities are gone. (If they were ever there.) The University of NoVa, operating out of the ground floor of an office building on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, has been ordered to cease and desist after 15 years of operation, due mostly to the fact that it has been unaccredited by any recognized group for five years now, and also because it failed four audits by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia which indicated failure to hire “qualified faculty” or use “appropriate curriculum content.” Which are key elements in any good university.

… from this link on Washington Post

  • What took two years to act when the issues related to the institution had already been reported in March of 2011 and was known to authorities.
  • And… please desist from blaming education agents this time atleast. The modus operandi is already known from Tri-Valley experience and most students then (even from India) were recruited onshore in the US. I continue to question the visa grants and the system that allows students to move from one institution to another so easily. I continue to question the vast difference in quality that exists in US between one and the other “accredited” University.

4 Comments

  1. It is a shame how the state of Virginia permitted such fraud! Perhaps state officials too benefitted monetarily along with local legislators ! The Agents in India cannot be made escape goats!

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  2. Hi Ravi,
    Compared to other countries, the number of US schools offering such bogus degrees are still far between and few. I still believe that amongst all other countries, the student visa regulations for US are still stringent. In my opinion, it is still better to attend a community college in the US than some TAFE or polytech in Australia and NZ, respectively. The AS degrees from community college can still offer more bang for the buck and I believe this is what agents need to look into.

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    1. Would differ a bit. Times and Regulations have changed around the world and it is difficult to get a visa to such institutes in UK or Australia now. Further TAFE cannot be compared to such institutions as they aim at vocational skills and not regular degrees and generally the graduating students from TAFE are better prepared.

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  3. It is certainly true that SCHEV should have closed this fraud much earlier.
    It is known that Virginia and California are the states with the least regulation of institutions of higher education. In CA, the religious exemption was the big one. That’s what TVU used originally. ICE has been much better there, though. I am wondering why nothing came out of the ICE raid of UNVA. In CA, the TVU owner and the Herguan owner are both indicted. The Herguan owner apparently tried to bribe a state politician to get the ICE investigation stopped, but that didn’t go anywhere. I am wondering if something similar was going on here.
    I don’t think that any consulate issued a visa for UNVA attendance for quite some time. The consulates knew that this was a fraud, according to cables leaked by Wikileaks. A known modus operandi was people signing up with real universities, and then transferring to one of these frauds. Another one was just changing to F1 status in the US. All with the goal not of studying, but of working with CPT.

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