By Allison Economou
Every spring, graduating seniors eagerly anticipate news of admission into the schools of their dreams. Although receiving a rejection can be a heart-wrenching experience for students, most guidance counselors and parents agree that rejection offers a healthy and inevitable lesson about resilience. Despite this, not all parents and students embrace the idea of healthy rejection, succumbing instead to the pressures of title and status in an increasingly competitive world.
On March 12, federal prosecutors charged fifty individuals involved in an admissions scheme to secure placement for their children into America’s most elite universities. The University of Southern California, one of the many schools wrapped up in the fraudulent scheme, said it identified six current applicants associated with the case and plans to reject them. The school has also informed current students linked to the scandal that they are not allowed to register for classes until their culpability in the affair has been determined. Yale reminded its students last week of its policy that states any falsified applications will result in re-sent admissions. Stanford said inaccurate information on college applications will result in termination from the university which “has happened regretfully in the past.” As part of the scheme to get their children into these elite schools, dozens of wealthy parents paid millions of dollars in bribes to inflate test scores, falsify essays and fake athletic achievements.
Although the thirty three wealthy parents who bought their children’s way into premier colleges are facing consequences for their illegal actions, the schools must ultimately decide what kind of disciplinary action should be taken against students who gained their admissions by fraudulent means. Federal prosecutors have not charged any students or universities with wrongdoing, saying that many students were not aware of what the parents were up to.
The ringleader of the scandal was William Singer, a 59-year-old consultant who worked in the college counseling business for three decades. In order to help wealthy parents secure their children’s placement into premier universities, he bribed coaches and test monitors, and falsified test scores. The thirty-three parents that were accused include: television star Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, actress Felicity Huffman and William E. McGlashnan Jr., a partner at the private equity firm TPG. According to Courtney Oliva, a researcher at the New York University School of Law, parents who paid $75,000 could get 12 to 18 months in prison, while those who paid $500,000 could get 30 to 37 months. Individuals who plead guilty to the charges may receive reduced sentences.
However, the parents and students aren’t the only ones to blame. College athletic coaches accepted millions of dollars to help admit undeserving students to schools such as the University of Austin Texas and Georgetown. After the scandal surfaced, the sailing coach at Stanford was fired. The UCLA men’s soccer coach, the Wake Forest women’s volleyball coach, and the men’s tennis coach at the University of Austin Texas were all placed on leave. An unidentified client of William Singer’s paid $6.5 million in order to get his child into college, according to Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
“A college is not in a great position to investigate,” said Theodore O’Neill, the former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago. “The admissions process is held together by a tissue of trust.”
In order to gauge how students who either are or will go through the college application process feel, The New York Times asked middle and high school students to voice their opinions about the scandal in a forum entitled “What is Your Reaction to the College Admissions Cheating Scandal?” Most of the students reported that they were appalled but not surprised. Students who are currently in the midst of applying for college said that the news changed their viewpoint about the meritocracy of the college admission process.
“College or university is an opportunity earned through an impartial process,” said Isabel Li from Temple City, California.
“One of the details that shocked me the most is that one of the parents claimed that their son had a learning disability. This is not only unethical, but this is very disrespectful to those who do have learning disabilities,” said Abby G. from Inman, South Carolina. “ I am kind of surprised that something like this happened in the United States because this is not what America is all about.”
Like the disillusioned students who posted on the New York Times forum, Nichole Dungo, a third year student from the University of California, Irvine calls the scandal “not surprising.” In order to make up for illegitimately getting themselves into school she suggests that those students should start from scratch.
“Let their school re-review their high school transcripts and extra curriculars. It’s too easy to expel them. If they really want to be in the college, they have to go through the admission process like every other high school senior.”
It is not just the nationwide college admissions scandal that is promoting review. The bribery scheme has also affected the world of elite Los Angeles area prep schools. Harvard-Westlake school received subpoenas from federal investigators before the case was publicly announced. Two parents named in the case resigned from the board of trustees of Sage Hill, a private school in Newport Coast, California.
Richard Weissbourd, a renowned development psychologist, argues that “parents are trying to give their kids ‘everything’ but they’re not giving them what counts.”
The federal prosecutors first learned about the case one year ago when a suspect in a security frauds case told them he knew about a college admissions fraud scheme and could help them learn more. As a result of the tip, the FBI set up a sting in a Boston hotel room last April, where they say Yale soccer coach, Rudolph Meredith, solicited a $450,000 bribe from a parent in exchange for ensuring a spot for the parent’s child on the team.