College scandal court case may deter bribes but won’t change attitudes

March 27, 2019 — by Anna Novoselov

With the uncontrollable obsession of entering the nation’s top name-brand universities and the growing competitiveness of admissions, it came as little surprise that some parents have pursued corrupt means of cheating the system.

The recently uncovered scandal in which 50 people were accused of bribing college athletic coaches and SAT proctors with outrageous sums of money cannot be seen as an isolated set of  incidents.

Behind the scenes, wealthy and powerful figures often  influence the college admissions process through legal and illegal means. They go to extreme lengths to get their children accepted to elite universities, in essence stealing spots from more qualified and deserving candidates.

To be sure, many parents seek to confirm their social status and prove that their own success through their own children’s successes, including college admissions, a tendency which Robert Feldmanthis, a professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, termed “reflected glory." College prestige is one such status marker that is seen to indicate intelligence and talent.

The high-profile individuals involved in the recent scandal, including “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and “Desperate Housewives” Felicity Huffman now face criminal charges. Many others were fired by their employers or left their jobs due to the scandal.

According to MSN News, William Rick Singer, the CEO of a college prep company called The Key, orchestrated the scheme by encouraging parents to perform criminal activities in order for their children to gain acceptance into elite universities. Beginning in 2011, he had his customers “donate” payments ranging from $200,000 to $6.5 million for admission guarantees.

The parents, as well as the children who supported their efforts, should not reap the rewards of such gross deception.

Colleges should continue investigations to uncover which students were aware that their parents were committing fraud. Besides expelling enrolled students who participated in the scandal, universities should establish guidelines to remedy their application process and uphold its fairness.

No doubt, these changes will be difficult, as colleges often  favor students whose parents are wealthy alumni. Harvard, for instance, was accused of providing leniency for legacy applicants, accepting 34 percent of legacy applicants versus 5.9 of non-legacy applicants between 2009 and 2015, as reported by NPR. This disparity is largely motivated by financial reasons.

While the court cases will not change the nature of college admissions, they may galvanize increased emphasis on monitoring college admissions to ensure the integrity of the process. Perhaps the scandal will force colleges to place more emphasis on merit rather than social status. For instance, college admissions officers may be more inclined to require more proof of accomplishments and begin carefully verifying the information provided by accepted students.

Fearing the fallout, applicants may be more reluctant to lie on their applications. But because identities are largely determined by success and social standing in the United States, cheating is unlikely to go away entirely.

Students and parents can advocate to reduce fraud during the college application season by encouraging admissions officers to emphasize proof of accomplishments and be more transparent about why students were admitted.

In a nation so focused on success and prestige, the college admissions process should be refined to guarantee that the dedicated and passionate students are the ones being rewarded.

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