College Admission Scandal or Business as Usual?
On an almost-spring March day in Massachusetts, Boston U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, held a press conference, the purpose of which was to announce indictments against 50 people, including 33 parents, in a college admission scandal.
Those accused include Hollywood actresses, a former CEO, a parenting book writer, a fashion icon, and university athletic directors.
Even in a world where things are constantly unraveling around us, the charges were breathtaking. They include: racketeering, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. College counselor Rick Singer allegedly was paid $25 million dollars from 2011 to 2019 to secure admission for his clients to many prestigious college and universities in the United States.
Mr. Lelling in describing “Operation Varsity Blues”, said: These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege.”
That certainly is true of this current crop of parents, college counselor and athletic directors but I contend that the history of U.S. college and university admission had been reserved for the children of the wealthy and the well connected.
Prior to World War II, the classrooms of most American colleges and universities were populated by white, wealthy males, often graduates of prestigious high school prep schools, the children of “legacy” parents, or wealthy donors.
After the War, the GI Bill opened up those classrooms to the children of middle class parents and in the 1970s affirmative action laws further expanded the collegiate population to underrepresented minority students. Women allowed to major in more degree programs other than education and nursing, further increased enrollments. Across the country the number of institutions of higher education increased to accommodate demand and today number 4,000.
Then in the 1990s the collegiate environment changed. The demographics of the American college aged population declined and many schools were forced to recruit international students to meet their enrollment and financial goals.
And the ranking system invented by Robert Morse at “U.S. News and World Report”, changed in part, how students were recruited and accepted, all in the name of moving up the ratings scale. Enroll wealthier students with the financial means to take test prep courses and a school could increase its rating. Increase your endowment by enrolling the children of wealthy parents, and your score should also improve. Make sure slots are “kept” for influential alumni whose children are certain to enroll and your acceptance to enroll ratio will make sure you don’t slip in the ratings.
And then there is athletics. Is there anyone reading this article that does believe that admission directors and athletic directors collaborate on how many student-athletes are accepted? Does anyone seriously believe there is no synergy between these two directors and offices? How many admission slots are held for students with the promise of bringing talent and revenue into the coffers of their schools?
College athletics is a big business. I am writing this article in the midst of the annual March Madness basketball tournament. The NCAA estimates that it will take in over $800 million in revenue for the broadcast and licensing rights for the competition. That money is shared with the few lucky schools with big athletic budgets and with coaches sometimes paid more than college presidents.
How much has changed with regard to college and university admission in the last 70 years? Is wealth, connections, and athletic talent just as important today as it was prior to World War II?
Maybe the recently formed USC faculty-led oversight committee to investigate their admission and athletic departments will result in better synergy?
Maybe taking a closer look at how athletes are recruited will result in more transparency? Or will it be that the more things change the more they stay the same?
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.