STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — San Joaquin Delta College is just one of many community colleges in the state that is again reviewing student enrollment numbers.
It comes after a large-scale conspiracy was uncovered, involving hundreds of fraudulent spam accounts posing as students.
In some cases, bot accounts were filling classes and taking places from legitimate students, likely in an effort to obtain financial aid.
After weeks of research, two Delta College professors 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 rosters swelled overnight and I went from maybe 15, 16 people to 85,” Brogger said. “The red flag has been raised.
Weeks later, when the semester began, his suspicions about the fraudulent students were confirmed when grading 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 an answer from someone who had two very, very different family structures and answers with the same name, which is obviously fishy.”
Professor Tara Cuslidge-Staiano said the deeper they dug, the more evidence began to pile up.
“I noticed all of these students were new students — no college history,” Cuslidge-Staiano said.
Delta College confirms it has identified at least 425 confirmed fraudulent students – 275 of whom were actually enrolled in classes.
“I think we felt a lot of violation, as instructors, but also – our big concern at that time was, ‘what about our students?'” Cuslidge-Staiano said.
In at least one case, a bot privately messaged 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 horrifies us,” Cuslidge-Staiano said.
The college took action on Thursday, abandoning student bots and blocking them from accessing their school’s financial accounts.
Delta College spokesman Alex Breitler said the “pseudo-student” enrollment problem is seen at 116 schools in California’s community college system.
“It’s affected a lot of colleges and I think it’s going to take some investigation, honestly, to figure out when it started and how widespread it is,” Breitler said.
The two professors said that if the professors 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 need to trust our instincts and keep digging,” Brogger said.
Cuslidge-Staiano thinks the human factor is the best way to catch this type of fraud.
“When our systems let things go and they come into the classroom, it’ll be the human touch that says, ‘This isn’t fair,'” Cuslidge-Staiano said.
Delta College said classes that were significantly impacted by the false registration will still take place.
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