BOSTON (Reuters) - Three women from China have agreed to plead guilty to cheating on entrance exams to American universities and colleges and are likely to be deported home, according to court papers.
Xiaomeng Cheng, who prosecutors said gained admission to Arizona State University through the exam scam, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court in Boston to conspiring to defraud the United States.
Further plea hearings over the next three weeks are set for Shikun Zhang, who was at Northeastern University in Boston, and Yue Wang, who according to prosecutors was paid to take exams for Zhang and Cheng while at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The exam in question was the TOEFL, the English-language exam widely used to assess foreign applicants. The test is recognized by more than 9,000 colleges, universities, and agencies in more than 130 countries.
While each of the women faced up to five years in prison, prosecutors have agreed to recommend that all three be sentenced to time served in exchange for their agreement to be deported.
That process got underway immediately for Cheng, who will spend two days at an immigration detention facility before flying to China on Friday. The hoodie-clad woman even brought a suitcase to court.
The 20-year-old’s lawyer, Paul Davenport, in court said she had good grades while at Arizona State and will now return “to her home country of China in disgrace and more importantly to the disapproval of her father, who I’ve met.”
Amid a increasingly affluent population, more Chinese students have been enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities, attracted by the prospect of a prestigious American education and good jobs.
Their numbers grew by 9 percent to 135,629 students in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.
Prosecutors said Wang, 24, earned nearly $7,000 taking the test in 2015 and 2016 for Zhang, Cheng and another Chinese woman, Leyi Huang, after they failed while previously taking the exam to meet their respective universities’ minimum scores.
After they were admitted, the three were issued student visas by the U.S. State Department. The four women subsequently were charged and arrested in May.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Soivilien in court said Huang, who was admitted to Penn State University, had declined a similar plea deal. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Grant McCool