College Admissions Scandal
According to a federal indictment, the parents of some of the nation’s wealthiest and most privileged students sought to buy spots for their children at top universities, not only cheating the system, but potentially cheating other hard-working students out of a chance at top schools. In a sweeping admissions cheating and bribery scandal uncovered by the FBI, ultra-wealthy parents, Hollywood actresses, coaches and college prep executives have been accused of carrying out a nationwide fraud to get students into prestigious universities. According to prosecutors, in the multi-part scheme, parents paid a college prep organization to take SAT/ACT tests on behalf of students or to correct their answers. Prosecutors also claim that organizations also allegedly bribed college coaches to help admit students into college as recruited athletes, regardless of their abilities. Additionally, federal court documents allege that some defendants created fake athletic profiles for students to make them appear to be successful athletes. The Washington Post published shocking excerpts from the college admissions criminal complaint.
During a news conference Tuesday, Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said, “The real victims in this case are the hardworking students” who were displaced in the admissions process by “far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in.”
As the Chronicle reports, there have long been concerns about money and influence in admissions on the flagship campus. In 2015, an independent investigation found that top officials advocated on behalf of well-connected applicants and shredded the evidence of their deliberations. While that incident is different than the clear criminality described by the Justice Department in this case, critics of university admissions practices see undue influence as part of a troubling continuum.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the admissions-cheating case highlights the intense pressure families feel to not only get their child into a good college-but into the best college possible.
According to a report in the Atlantic, revelations show how broken the elite-college admissions system truly is. Richard Kahlenberg, an education scholar who studies legacy admissions and is a prominent critic of them, told the magazine, “When federal prosecutors indicted Hollywood celebrities and other wealthy individuals for paying bribes to have their children admitted to selective colleges, we saw the logical culmination of a more subtle practice that has been going on for decades.” According to the article, legacy students account for an estimated 14 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate population, and applicants who enjoy such alumni connections are accepted at five times the rate of their non-legacy peers. Many people of color and those from disadvantaged backgrounds say the scandal shows that it’s not affirmative action that threatens the fairness of the college admissions process but the advantages of the rich and powerful.