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.
Mental and Behavioral Health
The America East Conference is strengthening its efforts to be a leader in mental health among athletes. The conference announced that its Board of Presidents adopted the NCAA autonomy proposal to improve student-athlete access to mental health resources. The conference formed a mental health working group comprised of stakeholders ranging from athletic directors to psychologists and student-athletes to identify the major issues. From there, the focus has become to continue to destigmatize mental health subjects and to improve education and access to mental health resources.
Colleges and universities are changing the way they deal with mental health issues on campus. Jeffrey Ng, Psy.D, Fordham University‘s Director of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services, spoke with the Fordham Ram to discuss their campus-wide investments in mental health programs and initiatives. Fordham has emphasized the need to train all university faculty and staff members that interact with students to notice the signs of mental illness. CAPS offers both individual and group therapy services, referrals for long-term psychiatry, consultations about students of concern and wellness workshops.
A newly-created campus task force at the University of Wisconsin Madison will review mental health resources and related supports and provide recommendations for a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to the mental health needs of students. The effort comes as the school looks to address a marked rise in the utilization of mental health services. The number of students seeking mental health services has increased 35 percent in five years.
Last summer, the leadership team of the University of Pennsylvania Counseling and Psychological Services center, overhauled the framework for scheduling appointments. The result was a significant reduction in average wait time to see a counselor – half of the time reported in the fall of 2017 – from 12 waiting days to six, despite a 23-percent increase in the number of appointments made from 2017 to 2018. Under the new model, the center removed the brief triage screenings that had previously occurred prior to counseling appointments. Now, students schedule an assessment ahead of time, or drop by the center during working hours if they have an immediate need. There is also a 24-hour phone line that students can call to reach a clinician, an expansion of after-hours care.
Four Johns Hopkins University student organizations – Hopkins Organization for Pre-Health Education (HOPE), Female Leaders of Color (FLOC), Organización Latina Estudiantil (OLÉ) and Hopkins Feminists (HopFems) – co-hosted a panel discussion on minority mental health. The panel discussed coping with mental health in competitive academic environments, creating boundaries, and the ways mental health issues are stigmatized and marginalized in some communities.
Despite moving into a newly renovated space, Harvard University’s Counseling and Mental Health Services continues to battle long wait times for students seeking appointments with a therapist. In a January interview, HUHS director Paul J. Barreira said, “We have a huge staff that has grown quite a bit in the last couple years and it’s never enough.” HUHS launched a pilot in the spring of 2018 that aimed to streamline the appointment-making process.
According to a Washington Post article, campus authorities and researchers are reporting a high-risk behavior colloquially called “drunkorexia,” which may include refusing to eat all day, excessive exercise or purging before consuming alcohol. The term was coined about 10 years ago. Studies show that having a preexisting eating disorder or alcoholism are predictors of drunkorexia.
The Athletics Department and Harvard University Health Services’ Counseling and Mental Health Services have collaborated to launch a program for student athletes that primarily focuses on mental health screening, education, and care through workshops for students and coaches. The new initiative, the “Crimson Mind and Body Performance Program,” debuted last year, provides mental health services specifically tailored to students on varsity sports teams.
Diversity and Inclusion
According to an NPR report, the low college enrollment among rural students is due to poor college recruitment in those areas. While college recruiters frequently visit urban and suburban students, they rarely go to small rural schools. The Census Bureau reports that rural households also have lower incomes than urban and suburban ones, meaning that rural students are less profitable for colleges, which often have to offer them financial aid. One recent study by researchers at UCLA and the University of Arizona found public high schools in affluent areas receive more college recruiter visits than schools in less affluent areas. Those researchers also found recruiters from private colleges concentrate disproportionately on private schools. Rural areas usually have neither wealthy families nor private schools.
Elite colleges are making strides to diversify their student bodies, both racially and economically. In the past few years, most top schools have committed to enrolling more low-income students through financial aid, recruiting efforts and programs for high school students aimed at expanding the pipeline. But according to Anthony Abraham Jack, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education author of the new book The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, once those students arrive on campus, they often find the experience isolating and foreign. There’s a difference between access and inclusion, he says. According to Jack, “Universities have extended invitations to more and more diverse sets of students but have not changed their ways to adapt to who is on campus.” In an interview with NPR, he said that fixing the problem means creative and thoughtful solutions, such as keeping dining halls and dorms open during holiday breaks – because not every student can afford a ski trip, or even a bus ticket home.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, on average, just 58 percent of students who started college in the fall of 2012 had earned any degree six years later. These numbers are up overall, but experts say they’re far too low and vary widely depending on type of school. Four-year private schools graduate more students than their public counterparts, and two-year community colleges and for-profit four-year schools have average completion rates below 40 percent. NPR asks why so few students are graduating. Mamie Voight, the vice president of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy explains, “A fundamental reason is that many institutions have not adapted to serve today’s students.” Students are more diverse than ever, racially and economically. They’re working part-time and are often struggling financially with college affordability as a major factor in their success.
Sexual Assault and Title IX
The Chronicle reports that while last year, Jorge Domínguez, a prominent Harvard professor and former vice provost, had been accused of sexually harassing 18 women over several decades, the university has done little to move the investigation forward.. Michael D. Smith, then the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, assured the community that there would be a “full and fair process of review.” A year later, that process has not reached a conclusion. Nor is there any indication when it might be wrapped up, or whether its findings will be made public, leaving many of the women who accused Domínguez frustrated at what they see as the university’s foot-dragging and lack of transparency. Some say they’ve lost faith in Harvard’s process for investigating complaints filed under Title IX.
Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights
About 40 University of California and California State University students met with legislators this week to lobby for the College Student Right to Access Act, or Senate Bill 24, introduced by California Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino. SB 24 requires access to abortion by medication techniques on UC and CSU campuses by 2023. The students lobbying for the bill in Sacramento hope to persuade legislators to be “vocal supporters” of SB 24 and future bills regarding reproductive health and availability.
In an effort to make safe sex practices more widespread across campus, Harvard University’s Sexual Health Awareness and Relationship Communication Educators are piloting a “SHARC Kit” program through which students can receive supplies like condoms anonymously. The program is currently underway in some residential houses.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced that Virginia has joined 21 state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new rule — the Title X “Gag Rule” that would make it so any organization or doctor that refers patients for abortions would lose Title X funding, significantly restricting access to reproductive health services and information for women and families. Last week, students at the University of Virginia protested the proposed changes to Title X, which could defund some family planning programs, like Planned Parenthood. Some students at the university say the local Planned Parenthood provides resources the Student Health Center does not.
To keep students safe on campus in a city with a very high crime rate, Johns Hopkins University is considering the creation of its own armed police force of 100 officers, a proposal that requires legislative approval. Baltimore’s mayor and the police chief have vocally supported the idea, but local residents are wary. According to reports, many residents object to a private police force in a city with a well-known policing problem and would prefer investments in youth programs and other initiatives that could curb the cycle of crime.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, argues for advocating for “14 is the new 12”. In other words, 14 years of free public education ought to be the expectation for all students, rather than 12 years. The concept of “14 is the new 12” recognizes that a high school diploma is no longer enough for gainful employment but that not everybody needs a four-year degree. At the same time, he argues, the concept does not bar anyone with the talent and drive to get a bachelor’s degree from obtaining one.
Physical Health and Wellness
The Panhellenic Council at the University of Pennsylvania will now require all sororities to have a wellness point person in each organization. The wellness point people will be trained to follow the Panhellenic Council wellness curriculum which will require each person to conduct various workshops and activities each month in areas of such as nutrition, exercise, and stress management.
The mother of an Oregon college student who died on campus has filed a $25 million lawsuit saying university staff negligently prescribed the medication that killed him. Colette Murray’s suit against Portland State University says Ty Murray Irving’s death in 2016 was caused by Ambien that student health services prescribed to help overcome troubled sleeping. The suit says Irving’s medical history had “red flags” including lung weakness and breathing problems that the medical staff did not properly investigate while also failing to adequately warn Irving that Ambien could be deadly.