Desperate Housewives Desperate for Admissions

Lily Connors, Editor

Early March of this year, Andrew E. Lelling, a Massachusetts U.S. attorney, charged fifty people with fraud, all in connection to the high profile college admissions scam. The defendants include: Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, well-known bankers, fashion designers, authors, coaches and other wealthy parents. Georgetown, Boston University, USC, USD, UCLA, Yale and Stanford are all colleges involved in the scam. The defendants reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, some even millions, to cheat their children into elite universities. The FBI has been pursuing the case, known as operation Varsity-Blues, since 2011.

William Rick Singer was the mastermind behind the scam. Singer owned two college counseling companies, Key Worldwide Foundation and the Edge College & Career Network. Key Worldwide Foundation is registered as a nonprofit organization, its mission statement to help underprivileged students get into college. Singer was able to disguise the payments from wealthy families, from thousands to millions of dollars, as money given to aid the organization in its mission. He then used the funds to pay off proctors of standardized tests, bribe coaches and falsify athletic accomplishments.

Despite its massive scale and widespread success, what is most surprising about the scandal is that it is not surprising at all. What is significantly more interesting is that the scam has created conversation around the institutional inequities in the college process. Wealthy parents have access to a wide variety of legal resources to boost their child’s college application, which are both expensive and effective. Independent college counselors offer advice on course placement and extracurriculars, tutors help with hard classes, ACT and SAT classes boost test scores, editors can review college essays, donations can be made to schools by parents of legacy students, and well-performing public schools or private schools are easier to access.

Although the anger generated over famous figures bribing their children into elite universities is justified, the normalized legal advantages wealthy families have in the college process is significantly more abhorrent. To continue to rely on a system that clearly caters to the rich perpetuates the tradition of elite higher education being much more accessible to the powerful few.

While it is vital for the authorities to persecute the perpetrators of the scam to the highest extent of the law, I believe it is much more important that Americans and universities alike reevaluate the significant legal institutional inequities that exist in the college process. When colleges accept a student who went to tutoring and had their college essay edited and their extracurriculars reviewed, how can they ensure that the student will be able to be both academically and financially independent at their institution and beyond?

In recent years, obtaining a college degree has become a vital step in the process to acquire a high-paying career and long term financial success. As a country who prides itself in the ability of its citizens to become economically prosperous despite the socioeconomic class which they were born into, the college admissions process in no way reflects that dream. The process in which economic privilege so commonly trumps years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice made by students from middle and lower socioeconomic classes.

But the larger question is, how can American institutions address and work to create a more equitable college admissions process? It ultimately requires educational reform on a national level. It begins with allocating more resources and federal funding to public schools, addressing issues of a “common core” and state-level assessments. It begins with changing the format of college admissions. Making more schools test optional and need-blind. Ensuring that admissions officers are from diverse backgrounds and institutions.

But these reforms require years and billions of dollars to implement. I believe that colleges need to redress how they judge applications, and how they decide who is worthy of attending their institution. I urge college admissions officers to redesign the college application. I urge Americans to rethink the emphasis they place on attending elite universities.