Is Arnold Schwarzenegger Running a College Admissions Scam?

Arnold Schwarzenegger is involved with a college-admissions company that, according to a ream of company documents and the testimony of several tipsters, promises admission to prestigious American schools—including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania—in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A tipster tells us that the former governor of California plans to visit Beijing in the second week of September to meet with wealthy Chinese families, who are the company’s sole market.

Schwarzenegger’s new venture is called the Panda Club, which portrays itself as a hybrid study-abroad/business-networking/cultural-tour program aimed at Chinese students planning to go to college in the United States. We’re told he was recently named its “honorary president,” a position held by “a celebrity from the United States Government,” according to the company’s handbook.

The company’s marketing materials do sound a little crazy—there are references to a “super-luxury villa” and “intenstive training in psychological success”—but its guaranteed-admission service, as described by one tipster, seems too insane to believe.

Using a sister company in China called Oxbridge International, the Panda Club’s “VIP” program supposedly connects seats annually slotted to certain “funds”—companies, donors, and so forth—with families willing to pay for them. One tipster, who identified himself as an educator based in Beijing, gave us an account of how this works:

Basically, there are funds which will partially sanction money to schools and for campaigns. In return for the money, the school will annually distribute several spots to the funds. And Oxbridge has signed with 3 of funds, therefore Oxbridge can have the spots that the funds acquire from the schools as long as Oxbridge pays for it. Generally every year it can get 2 spots for Harvard, 2 for Yale, 5 for Stanford, more than 10 for USC, and many spots for other top schools.

Forgive us, but that sounds a little fishy. According to its own materials, however, the Panda Club helps members obtain admission—by means unspecified—to “elite schools” “quickly and smoothly.” The cost, according to the Club’s price schedule (which appears in a Panda Club document emblazoned with the words “VIP” and one of the Club’s glossy brochures), runs from $1 million USD (Harvard and Yale) to $78,000 USD (the University of Virginia).

Three weeks ago, Schwarzenegger became an official professor at USC, one of the schools listed in the Club’s brochure (for $125,000). And in May, Panda Club representatives posted photos of them meeting with him in an online album called “Inviting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to China (2012)”.

In a telephone conversation with IvyGate, the club’s foundera Pepperdine professor named Demosthenes Vardiabasis—denied any arrangement between the Panda Club and the former Governor. However: when asked if Schwarzenegger had any future plans to shop the Club around, in China or elsewhere, Vardiabasis claimed he “did not know,” and told us to ask Arnold Schwarzenegger. Vardiabasis then demanded to see the documents we were talking about, and chastised us for bothering him.

Upon receipt of said documents, Vardiabasis cut off contact, and refused to acknowledge the rest of our phone calls and emails.

Of the schools listed on the price sheet, all but two vociferously denied any knowledge of the Panda Club, or any arrangement by which people can purchase admission. (Yale and Dartmouth did not respond to our request for comment. Neither did Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

  • Anonymous

    This is a common scam run on international students. Well-heeled con artists find wealthy, educated students/families and promise them admission to top schools by alluding to special connections or other secretive tactics.

    The scammers might then look over an application but otherwise have nothing to do with college admission offices. Students who aren’t admitted wind up getting most of their fees refunded, while the scam pockets exorbitant fees from those who do get in independent of the scam’s efforts.