Growth of Fake Qualifications

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Need for Education Check In the background screening business there is a saying, ‘if it is too good, it can’t be true.’ Adam Wheeler was doing just fine till he got ahead of himself and overstated his achievements and grades. He would have got away Scot free if he was just content to acquire a Harvard degree.

The 23 year-old got into Harvard University on the basis of his perfect (but fake) high school grades and SAT scores. He did not stop there. He plagiarized writings and research to win awards, prizes and grants. This ‘A’ student was finally outed when a professor noted that Wheeler’s Fulbright and Rhodes scholarship applications claimed straight A’s, were full of “numerous books he co-authored, lectures he had given and courses he had taught.” Too much. Too good.

The issue is interesting but there are, however, ominous facets to this story. Cases of students exaggerating their academic records are rising. Then there is the tarnishing of the venerable and good name of three hundred and seventy-four year old Harvard. While this respected institute is the victim, it is also at fault. In his admission application to Harvard, Wheeler submitted transcripts from MIT with letter grades when MIT actually uses a numerical scoring system. He also presented forged recommendation letters.

These were all missed by the Harvard admissions staff because they had not screened his application thoroughly. The checking of degrees and references is not always what it could be. It would be too easy to say that Harvard should have been a little more careful (or thorough) but the truth is that student fraud is now a disconcertingly large problem impacting and discrediting the institutes drawn in by their deceptions. Colleges like Harvard face a secondary risk (besides a damaged reputation). They could be liable to legal action and face large costs. In fact in an earlier student hoax case Harvard had to refund over $100,000 to the National Institute of Health.

The centuries old name of renowned colleges and universities could be brought under a cloud if ex-students are found indulging in fraud or caught in any other illegal or criminal acts in their later careers. The guilt by association tag is a difficult one to circumvent.

Harvard’s reputation rests on its strong academic record, brilliant faculty and equally gifted students. It would be a pity if its name was besmirched by a serial fraudster.

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