STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) – San Joaquin Delta College is just one of many community colleges in the state that are re-examining enrollment numbers.
It comes after the discovery of a large-scale conspiracy involving hundreds of fraudulent spam accounts masquerading as students.
In some cases, robot accounts filled classes and took places away from legitimate students, presumably in an attempt to secure financial aid.
After weeks of investigating, two professors at Delta College uncovered a sophisticated college enrollment scam.
Professor Adriana Brogger said that despite her recruiting efforts, she knew it was too good to be true.
“Woah, my lists swelled overnight and I went from maybe 15, 16 people to 85,” Brogger said. “The red flag has been raised.
Weeks later, at the start of the semester, his suspicions about the fraudulent students were confirmed when scoring the discussion board responses.
“There was kind of a pattern with the syntax, spelling, and errors,” Brogger said. “The smoking gun was that there was a response from a person who had two very, very different family structures and responses with the same name, which is obviously fishy.”
Professor Tara Cuslidge-Staiano said the more they dug, the more evidence began to accumulate.
“I noticed they were all new students – no history with college,” Cuslidge-Staiano said.
Delta College confirms that it has identified at least 425 confirmed fraudulent students, of which 275 were in fact enrolled in courses.
“I think we felt a lot of violations, as instructors, but also – our big concern at that point was’ what about our students? “” said Cuslidge-Staiano.
In at least one case, a bot sent a private message to a real student about a job.
“Here we have these pseudo-students taking up classroom spaces, you know, potentially trying to rip off our students in our own classroom spaces, which is horrible for us,” Cuslidge-Staiano said.
The college took action on Thursday, ditching student robots and preventing them from accessing their school’s financial accounts.
Delta College spokesman Alex Breitler said the “pseudo-student” enrollment problem was seen in 116 schools in the California community college system.
“It has affected a lot of colleges and I think it’s going to take an investigation, honestly, to be able to determine when it started and how widespread it is,” Breitler said.
The two professors said that if the faculty hadn’t been so engaged with the students, it’s unclear how long the “ghost students” would have gone unnoticed.
“I think a lot of times we just have to trust our gut and keep digging,” Brogger said.
Cuslidge-Staiano believes the human factor is the best way to catch this kind of fraud.
“When our systems let things go and they come into the classroom, it will be the human touch that says, ‘This is not right,'” said Cuslidge-Staiano.
Delta College said classes that were significantly affected by the bogus enrollment will still take place.
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