UNFAIR ADVANTAGE: THE COLLEGE ADMISSION SCANDAL AND THE RIGGED CLASS SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AMERICA
by Albert Lanier
$25 million dollars.
All those dollar amounts are tied to the costs of colleges and universities in the United States of America. All of those dollar amounts were paid by wealthy, fairly well-connected parents on behalf of their teenaged student offspring.
Yet these figures above are not total amount of yearly tuition rates or dorm fees or the costs of books or meal plans. In fact, they have nothing to do with the cost of actually attending a college or university.
These totals are all fees paid to bribe coaches, officials, test-takers and others in what is being described as one of the largest fraudulent operations of its kind to get students into top tier colleges and universities.
$25 million in total payments from 2011 to 2019. $250–400,000 paid per student by parents on average. $100,000–6.5 million paid out in bribes.
The Department of Justice operation code named Operation Varsity Blues resulted in the arrests of 50 individuals. No doubt to the amazement of their fans and even those who know of them on cursory level, the operation resulted in the arrests of actresses Lori Laughlin (best known for her work on the ABC sitcom FULL HOUSE) and Felicity Huffman (who starred on the hit drama DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES also airing on ABC). Laughlin’s husband, designer Massimo Giannuli, was also arrested.
33 parents along with 13 coaches were arrested. These parents came a varied range of professions and businesses and included the founder of Equity firm TPG, Bill McGlashan.
The fraudulent operation in question was spearheaded by William “Rick” Singer, an admissions consultant who ran The Edge College and Career Network based in Newport Beach, California.
Allegedly, Singer also ran a phony charity called The Key Worldwide Foundation.Parents paid these copious amounts of moneys to the charity which was then funneled to a number of individuals who helped their kids get into prestigious universities such as Yale, USC, Stanford, Georgetown and Wake Forrest.
These individuals included coaches who helped recommend these teenagers for admission on the grounds of athletics even though these young men and women were athletes and didn’t play the sport in question they were admitted under.
In this aspect, photo sessions were arranged to shoot pictures of these non-athletic students in athletic uniforms or with gear and equipment so as to appear as they played sports. Faces of these students were even photoshopped on real student athlete’s bodies as well.
In addition, parents could pay for selected test-takers to take the SAT or ACT admissions tests for their children. One such test-taker, an ex-tennis pro and Harvard grad named Mark Rydell -who was working at. a private school in Florida-was touted to be such an expert test taker that he could tell parents what score he could get for their kids on the tests. He reportedly charged $10,000 per test.
Test proctors in on the scam also were available to change and bump up and SAT score for an unsuspecting child of one of these paying parents involved in the fraud.
This fraudulent operation reportedly came to the attention of the FBI and federal authorities because of the suspect in another case involving securities irregularities. The individual told authorities that he would give them information about another criminal matter if they would lessen his potential time. This person told them that he was approached by a coach at Yale who told him he could get his daughter into the University for a fee. This individual agreed to wear a wire and approach the coach, Rudy Meredith about taking him up on his offer. Meredith got caught and opted to cooperate which eventually led to this deceptive House of Cards falling.
A number of people reading this may wonder why this was such a large scale news story when it broke earlier in March of 2019. They may rationalize that this is no big deal. “Aren’t the wealthy always trying to buy their way into everything?” “Hasnt this kind of thing always gone on behind the scenes?” “Why should we care?”
People in this country should care because education in general and high education in particular affects nearly everyone. Even if you dont have a university degree, you have a son or daughter, niece or nephew or other relatives either attending college or looking to get into a college.
This college admissions scandal points to how important not only a college degree is but a degree from an elite college or university. The fact that someone like Laughlin reportedly paid $500,000 dollars so that her two daughters could get into USC should underline to anyone just how many of the well-known an wealthy take elite college attendance and credentials seriously.
It should be emphasized that the $500,000 price tag ostensibly paid by Laughlin as well as thousands of dollars paid by other parents were simply to get their children into these schools. We aren’t even discussing the costs of tuition, books, dorms and other fees which will costs thousands of dollars more.
This is a powerful indication of just what kind of financial advantages such wealthy parents have in sending their kids to college. By contrast, poor, working class and even middle class students cant compete with such a financial tsunami.
What is admittedly odd about this scandal is that- absent this fraudulent scheme -the current system of admissions is already extremely tilted in the direction of the rich and the super rich.
Daniel Golden is an editor at Propublica and wrote the 2006 book “The Price of Privilege” which looked into the advantages the wealthy enjoy in getting their kids into elite schools.
Golden who wrote the essay “The Preferences of Privilege” which can be found in the 2012 tome ‘SAT Wars: The Case for test-optional college admission” notes early on in his essay that “Unlike their counterparts in the rest of the world, selective colleges in the United States tilt their admissions policies to favor the rich and powerful.”
“At schools that admit 1 in 10 or 1 in 8 of their applicants, and are the gateway to power and influence in the society, affluent but second rate students regularly get in ahead of candidates with greater intellectual ability or artistic aptitude” noted Golden who argued that elite college and universities “seek donations by reserving slots for children of privilege while turning away outstanding middle class and working class applicants.”
I would argue a class system exists at these elite colleges and universities that advantages the wealthy and disadvantages even the middle classes as well as the working class and poor.
I would also argue such a class system exists through higher education as a whole even at middle to lower private and public colleges and universities.
For example, Golden noted that Legacy admissions-perhaps the most well known and wholly unfair status for admission-has an impact even in providing financial help for such students. He cites a stat during the 2008–2009 school year at the University of Arkansas, a state university, 185 legacy admissions who were out of state students qualified for legacy scholarships that thus reduced their tuition to resident rate-around $9,000 a year.
While Legacy admissions have been the most controversial form of admissions bias at many colleges and universities, Golden also noted that alumni, athletes and developmental cases (notably non-alumni who are wealthy and powerful in their fields say in politics, the corporate sector or entertainment industries) are also preferred in terms of admissions.
What is striking about this scandal is how a system that already privileges wealthy elites was not enough for these 33 parents involved with this case. They werent content to simply pay thousands if not millions in donations to selected schools they wanted to get their kids in. They didnt care about simply hiring consultants or putting their kids through tests prep.They simply wanted to pay to get their kids in-period.
Golden notes about such students from wealthy families that “these individuals generally go to excellent high schools that offer a much wider range of courses, foreign languages, sports and clubs than inner city schools do.”
“They can afford SAT prep, independent college counselors and expensive extracurricular activities” added Golden.
And yet with all this, Parents didn’t want to rely on a system that basically allowed admissions generally to be theirs for the taking. They were willing to pay thousands of dollars in bribes to fix tests, to have tests taken, to have their kids pretend to be something they weren’t.
In short, they were willing to break the law-just to get their kids into Yale and USC.
In the end, this scandal casts a harsh, intense light on some of the so-called rich and famous and even not so famous. It basically indicts not them simply as cheaters but as fools.
After all, it is one thing to seek an unfair advantage that is structured against one’s interest. It is quite another to seek such an advantage in system that is already geared in one’s favor.
It is often stated that a fool and his money is quickly parted. In this case, we have quite a few fools and a great deal of money.
Albert Lanier was a freelance journalist for 22 years. He wrote for a number of newspapers and magazines during his career including Honolulu Weekly, Pacific Business News and Hawaii Magazine. Retired, he writes a blog for medium.com and is interviewed as a commentator and pundit on a variety of programs. He can be reached at Twitter and Facebook.