Over 60,000 ‘student bots’ enrolled in California Community College system


Photo Credit: David Whelan

Over 60,000 “student bots” disguised as real students were discovered in the California Community College system.

Asia Ryan, Opinions Editor

   Thanks to a new software named Imperva Advance Bot Detection, the California Community College system was able to find and disenroll a large number of “student bots” attempting to fraudulently receive financial assistance benefits this Fall semester. 

   According to a September New York Times article, Patrick Perry, director of policy, research, and data for the California Student Aid Commission, noticed a strange spike in first-time applicants to the community college system. He said, “We were kind of scratching our heads going, ‘Did or didn’t 60,000 extra older adult students really attempt to apply to community colleges here in the last few months?’” These suspicious applicants were discovered across 105 of the 116 campuses that make up the California Community College system. Perry goes on to say that he did not believe that much aid was disbursed to any of these fake students, but California Community College officials refused to give a concrete answer.   

   Mesa College was not spared from involvement in this fraud mix-up. According to Vice President of Student Services Dr. Ashanti Hands, the matter was first brought to her attention in early June and she does confirm that there have been cases of these “student bots” enrolled here at Mesa College. In an effort to combat this issue, she explained that “The District continues to work with the state chancellor’s office as it relates to CCCApply and programming. As a district, we are committed to mitigating such fraud using security measures, practical efforts, and  student-centered approaches.” 

   The possibility that these COVID-19 emergency funds may have been obtained fraudulently, poses a serious issue for students in need of those funds. According to the San Diego Mesa college foundation website, even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, 50 percent of students did not have food security, and 1 of 5 students was homeless. These funds are needed now more than ever.

  Hands verbalized her dismay towards the scammers and the potential repercussions that they will have for the students who genuinely need these services. “Funding for COVID-19 relief grants has been allocated to students who have been impacted by real, complex, personal and challenging situations due to the pandemic,” she says, “It is disheartening that individuals would be intent upon gaining access to funds that support our most vulnerable students, in their most vulnerable moments, in such dishonest and selfish ways.”

   San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton experienced the same strange phenomenon of “student bots” according to a September Los Angeles Times article. Journalism professor Adriana Brogger and her colleague Tara Cuslidge-Staiano noticed a similar rise in the enrollment numbers in their classes. They noticed strange, nearly sequential student ID numbers as if all students in that class enrolled on the same day, and these “students” were attempting to take classes that didn’t make sense for their major. Brogger believes that of the 45 students that enrolled initially, only six were real students. Cuslidge-Staiano believes that more than 40 of her 60 students enrolled are “student bots”. “It looked like we were making a comeback in spite of the pandemic,” Cuslidge-Staiano said. “The hardest part of all of this is that we’re not doing as well as we thought we were doing.”

   If you would like to donate to Mesa College student COVID-19 emergency fund for students severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, click here.