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Another Crisis Looming: Competencies and Immigration

Higher Education: A cornerstone

Is there another crisis looming? Higher Education has evolved over centuries into one of the cornerstones of our society. Today, companies and organizations rely on institutions of higher education to develop competencies in their employees that are key to their success. Worldwide different educational systems have evolved that are pretending to guarantee quality and comparability of competencies in students that form part of this system.

Diplomas, certificates, accreditations, etc. are all attempts to communicate clearly to all stakeholders the acquired competencies of students.

But there are dark clouds on the horizon of this educational paradise our parents and grandparents have built over decades.

“…there are dark clouds on the horizon …”


Over recent decades there has been strong growth in access to higher education. Whereas in 1965 only 3.05% (5.92M students) of the population in the US studied in institutions of higher education, in 2015 this number was reaching 6.23% (19.99M students). This growth can be mainly attributed to the explosive growth in students at public universities (3.97M (1965) -> 14.57M (2015)), rather than private universities (1.95M (1965) -> 5.42M (2015). Total numbers at private universities have been declining since 2010.

The same effect of unprecedented growth can be observed worldwide, in the developed and developing world alike. However, not all countries have established control systems in place to make sure that certificates, diplomas or titles are comparable or meet certain standards and expectations. The previous exclusivity of a title in higher education has turned into a standard, where entrance positions in companies require an MBA or other master’s degree title. 

This article does not pretend to analyze the reasons for this development. Did the requirements of companies increase disproportionally? Is the real or perceived quality of master’s degrees going down? I will leave these questions to another analysis at a later point.


Many governments and institutions today do not want to take the time to analyze the competencies and experience of their employees and rather generalize, asking for titles and thus externalizing the responsibility of evaluating their future employees to universities. The caveat of this behavior is twofold. First, organizations lose the capability in their HR departments to understand needed and provided competencies and rather ask for an ABC title from XYZ University. Internal thought: “If she has a master’s degree from XYZ, she must be good.”. Second, this pressure to have a paper, rather than acquiring a competency, has resulted in an explosion of falsified documents and titles. Why are companies not evaluating the papers and titles of their candidates and employees? The cost of doing this is higher than evaluating competencies internally, hence, defeating the purpose of becoming so dependent on titles in the first place.


On a global scale, mobility has increased. Migration between countries and regions has grown. In the US alone, numbers have gone up from 297k (1965) to 1M (2015) new permanent residents. The percentage of immigrants with a bachelor’s degree or higher (31%) on average is comparable to the percentage in the US-born population (32%). However, immigrants from Asia (53%), Middle East (48%), Europe (44%) and Africa (41%) is considerably higher than the US-born average. However, what does this mean for the job market? Are titles from Europe, Asia or Africa comparable to titles from the US? How can an Admission Registrar make sure that the document provided is real, that the institution is real and that the acquired competencies are comparable to a title acquired at a US institution? 


Global Migration Patterns

Image 1: Global migration pattern between regions. 

[Source: Wittgenstein Center –]

US education levels

Table 1: Educational attainment among US immigrants, 2017 

[Source: Pew Research Center:]

Since companies have “outsourced” candidate evaluation to universities, the ball is now in the Admission Registrars corner. Companies and universities alike are struggling with this exponential growth in variety of titles and institutions. The once-celebrated success formula “You can’t go wrong with an MBA.” Is now questioned. 

How does this affect me, as a:

STUDENT: Well, it’s not just the competition you are facing from your peers and former students in a global marketplace, but you will increasingly compete against either falsified certificates from real universities or real certificates from fake universities. Get used to it! (The best of the best?)

It is estimated that 50% of presented titles in the US today are either falsified titles or titles from fake institutions … and let’s not get into diploma mills, that’s another complete article. If you might have had a 50% chance of getting a certain job just 5 years ago, today your chances are more likely at 20% … and the trend continues! Using financial terms, the ROI of your investment into your education continues to decrease at an alarming rate – not because you are at XYZ University, but because the candidates you compete with might just have invested 500$ in a fake diploma, hence is younger, without student debt and having the same title as you.

  Harvard False Diploma Harvard Diploma

Image 2: Which one of these two degrees is real? Which one is fake? Let? Right? Both? None? Think hard, the difference might cost you more than 300.000 USD.

“… the ROI of your investment into your education continues to decrease at an alarming rate …”

ADMISSION REGISTRAR: As a Registrar your job is not becoming easier! Complexity in the verification and validation of prior academic achievements is getting out of control – timewise and cost-wise. The example of Adam Wheeler, the student who was accepted to Harvard on completely false documentation is just the tip of the iceberg. The tip that was discovered. It is very likely that among your accepted students there is a large number of students with completely or partially falsified documents. And no, presenting a GRE or GMAT does not give you peace of mind.

But it is not just the incoming students. The more prominent your institution the higher the probability that there is someone applying at this exact moment with a (falsified) title from your institution. Reputational damage? (Will your MD kill you?) Maybe not immediately, but the more people are out there saying to have studied at your institutions without actually having any of the required competencies – the more your degrees will be worth in the eye of the public.

Is there another Crisis looming?

What are your experiences? Do you know people who falsified documents? Do you feel that selection processes are still fair these days? What is the “state of the union” in terms of higher education degrees? Share your thoughts and comments! 


  1. The disappearing American Grad Student, The New York Times,
  2. Your MD might have a phony degree, CNBC News, 
  3. Dean at MIT resigns – Ending a 28-year lie, The New York Times,
  4. Psst. Wanna buy a Ph.D.?, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 
  5. Key Findings about U.S. Immigrants, 
  6. Migration Policy Institute,
  7. Global Flow of People,
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