Dickinson St. leader fields enrollment questionsBISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Dickinson State University's president told North Dakota lawmakers Friday that a school program that awarded dubious degrees and training certificates to almost 600 Chinese students has been shut down.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Dickinson State University's president told North Dakota lawmakers Friday that a school program that awarded dubious degrees and training certificates to almost 600 Chinese students has been shut down.
President D.C. Coston faced sharp questions Friday from legislators on the Higher Education Committee, who wondered why Dickinson State faculty and administrators had not raised warning flags about the “special international student” program.
The program began in 2003 and started attracting large numbers of Chinese students four years ago.
Two separate Dickinson State programs allowed Chinese students to get bachelor's degrees from the school in a year, with less than 40 hours’ course credit. Normally, it takes at least 120 hours to receive a diploma from the southwestern North Dakota school.
The programs were advertised as an opportunity for Chinese students to obtain degrees both at Dickinson and their home college.
Many of the students had not passed an English proficiency test as required by the state Board of Higher Education, and redacted student records that were included in an audit of the program showed evidence of generous grading.
Coston said the school has also ended payments to recruiters who scoured Chinese schools for potential students. Since 2003, the recruiters were paid $2.1 million, an expense that was later billed to the Chinese students themselves.
Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, said he believed faculty or administrators “lacked integrity” if they were aware and did not sound the alarm about Dickinson State students who could not speak English being given degrees with a year's work on campus.
Coston said the university was still sorting through who was ultimately responsible for the problems. The school's longtime registrar has taken early retirement, and its vice president for academic affairs recently stepped down.
“We've already had a number of things happen, and we will be having a number more happen. I would say, stay tuned,” Coston said.
A special check of other Dickinson State student groups did not uncover any of the record-keeping problems that plagued the Chinese student program, Coston said.
“Those programs are rock-solid,” he said.
Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, said the legislative inquiry was “not a witch hunt.”
“It's sure not a personal inquisition,” Carlson said to Coston, “but we do expect something to happen because of all of this.”
Coston, a former North Dakota State University administrator, became Dickinson State's president in January after his predecessor, Richard McCallum, was fired.
Coston said representatives of the Higher Learning Commission, a Chicago agency that accredits universities, would be visit the campus in late April or early May.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Coston said he was not concerned about Dickinson State losing its accreditation because the school has been forthcoming about its difficulties with the commission.
“What they have said is, they're very pleased that we've been upfront, and have kept them informed in advance of various things that have occurred,” Coston said. “It is isolated to this particular set of issues.”
Coston said it is unclear about how Dickinson State benefited from awarding questionable degrees.
The Chinese students were only charged about 30 percent more than the in-state tuition rate, the president said, and brought in about $16,000 per student annually. The students were required to live in university housing and pay their tuition and residence hall fees in advance.
An updated audit of the affected students, distributed to lawmakers Friday, showed 442 students received four-year degrees from 2003 through February 2012. Of that number, only 10 could document that they had finished the required coursework.
A separate, one-semester program trained Chinese students for work at Disney amusement parks and awarded 154 certificates to participants. The audit showed that none of the students met the standards for getting a certificate.
Coston said the Disney program was no longer being offered at Dickinson State.
Dickinson State, which is located in southwestern North Dakota's oil-producing region, has an enrollment of about 2,300 students.