The most recent ECA post dealt with issues arising from the Chinese company Dipont bringing admissions officers from prestigious American colleges and universities to China for a summer workshop on applying to American colleges. The ethical issues had to do with paying travel expenses and, in some cases, an honorarium, and Dipont’s marketing the admissions officers’ attendance as evidence of a special relationship the company had with those colleges. (That post was featured in Inside Higher Ed’s “Around the Web” section, recognition that always means a lot.)
After the post was published, I received an interesting e-mail from Judy Oberlander from the Ojai Valley School in California. Judy reported that she had been among a group of high school counselors invited by Dipont to come to China and work both with students and counselors. Judy has given me permission to share her perspective on her Dipont experience, and it appears below, with minor edits.
I've been following the news about Dipont with interest because I (and several other US high school counselors) spent several summers in China working at a Dipont summer camp for Chinese high school students. We were initially recruited by Bruce Hammond, who quit Dipont in June of 2010, just before we started the summer program. Bruce was upset about dishonesty and cheating in China. I had several phone conversations with him. He assured us that he felt that we would be treated well and that the camp was a legitimate operation. That first summer nine of us went to China, five to Nanjing and four to Shenzhen. I returned for the next two summers to Shanghai along with several of the original counselors and some others as well.
I found the camp to be fairly well run (although things are always different in China), the people were nice, and the students were almost all great kids. We were each responsible for 14 -16 students for two weeks, taking them through the application process, writing essays, practicing interviews, making college lists, the whole thing. We each worked with 2 or 3 counselors from Chinese high schools so that they could observe a college counseling program. These counselors were supposed to be learning from us so that they could work with students in their schools on applying for admission to US/UK schools. All of the Chinese counselors I worked with were great people, and I still keep in touch with some of them as well as with some of my former students.
As part of the program we had a steady stream of college reps from "name" schools who presented their spiel and then sat in on the classes and talked with students. They were all nice people, and I never got the impression that they thought they were being used or that the students thought they were getting special access. However, we (US counselors) did notice that the college reps always seemed to be treated like visiting celebrities while we were just everyday counselors. We thought it was funny because most of those reps were not directors; mostly they were regular admissions reps who did not have a lot of clout. One friend (now a Director of Admission) visited some Dipont schools around the same time and she told me that her institution had been approached by Dipont with what sounded like expectations of special treatment in admissions. That was the end of their relationship.
Dipont has a relationship with a number of public schools in China. They established an AP/IB curriculum for students who did not intend to stay in China for college but who wanted to go to another country. They recruited teachers from the US, Canada, and the UK. By 2012 (my last summer) they had hired a number of US high school counselors to work in their schools. The counselors that I knew were committed to helping the Chinese students make honest applications. I have heard that these programs are controversial because admission to these public schools is very selective, but admission to the AP/IB programs is not.
I had a wonderful time those three summers and I learned a lot. So I was very disappointed to learn that Dipont too was caught up in the frenzy. A number of people that I know worked for them full time, and it is sad to know that the company has acquired this reputation.
One funny thing happened during the summer of 2011. I was at the Shanghai airport with another friend waiting for our flight to Los Angeles and we ran into the Directors of Admission from three UC schools waiting for the same plane. They had been at a camp sponsored by another company. I'm sure they were a big draw. I have no idea how much money they were paid. I wish Dipont had offered me first class airfare, but I was just happy that they paid for my trip and put me up in a hotel for the duration of the camp.
I want to make it clear and I, and most people I know, are a bit dubious about the way things are done in China. I think Dipont was really trying to do a good thing; establishing the AP/IB programs is one of those good things. And they really seemed to want us US counselors to share how we do things with Chinese counselors so they understood how the applications work.
I appreciate Judy sharing her experience and her perspective on Dipont.