Beating the American System

Want to get your kids into an elite U.S. university on the cheap? Here's a way to beat the system.

March 24, 2000

Want to get your kids into an elite U.S. university on the cheap? Here's a way to beat the system.

Once upon a time, there was almost universal agreement that highly-industrialized countries should provide financial assistance to developing countries to help lift them out of poverty. But, despite consecutive years of impressive budget surpluses for the U.S. government, times are hard for poor countries hoping to extract any sizable sum of aid from U.S. coffers.

That is, unless you are crafty. It is a well-known fact that Indian students provide the top crop of foreign students at many U.S. universities. Indian universities are already churning out 120,000 engineering graduates every year — twice the number from U.S. schools.

But with the United States in the throes of dot-com mania, the United States clearly offers Indian students a far more lucrative future. That is one reason why Indian computer programmers and engineers receive about half of the work visas set aside for highly-skilled individuals.

The problem, however, is not what happens once Indian students get their degrees, it is how they can afford to pay tuition at U.S. schools. India’s per-capita GDP was only about $1,600 in 1997 — meaning that the average Indian earned barely enough money to pay for a single class at a top U.S. university. Clearly, Indian families have to receive abundant financial assistance to be able to send their children to American schools.

But what is not so evident, according to U.S. diplomatic sources, is the crafty way that many wealthy Indian families — who can afford to send their children abroad — are taking advantage of college administrators’ inability to verify whether these families have provided factual information on their applications for financial aid.

All financial aid applications must be accompanied by the family’s income tax return. In India, where low-paid bureaucrats often depend on handouts from private citizens, it is very easy for prominent families to have official documents doctored to hide assets.

Unfortunately, the success of these wealthy families in falsifying their incomes has resulted in many more of their offspring — and not the children of truly needy families — who often receive the most generous scholarships.

It is unlikely that U.S. college administrators will begin dispatching fact-checkers on a 7,500 mile jaunt to India to look into applicants’ backgrounds. Rather, they are more likely to resign themselves to having to provide to ante up additional amounts of aid, even if it quite often goes to the wrong caste of Indians — those that do not need any help.