The College Admissions Scandal

By Max Boesch-Powers

Recently, an admissions scandal has rocked the high stakes world of a college education. Coaches and test administrators representing various colleges accepted bribes from top-tier lawyers, actors, company executives and other American elite in exchange for a highly sought after college education. Bribes ranged from $15,000 to $75,000 for a professional test-taker to take the SAT in place of the student or for a test proctor to correct the mistakes made after the student’s completion. The most notable celebrities involved included “Full House” star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband J. Mossimo Giannulli as well as “Desperate Housewives” star, Felicity Huffman. In Loughlin’s case, a $100,000 bribe to a top crew coach at the University of Southern California was enough to get her two daughters into the school. Coaches have a lot of power in admissions decisions, so the two girls simply posed in a boat for a picture, and the coach took care of painting a false picture of their extensive athletic achievements. The wrongdoers were not just wealthy Americans but also the coaches who willingly accepted bribes which robbed genuinely deserving students and athletes of their spot at a prestigious university.

The middleman accepting bribes and paying them forward to test proctors and corrupt coaches is named William “Rick” Singer. He pleaded guilty in his court appearances and even wore a wire at points when the scam was still taking place to expose other wrongdoers. He offered wealthy clients what he called a “side door” into college. He owns the for-profit Edge College & Career Network AKA The Key as well as the Key Worldwide Foundation which poses as a charity in order to unsuspiciously operate as a front for the bribes he was receiving. Mr. Singer’s idea of college admission is that “ there is a front door of getting in, where a student does it on their own… And then there’s a back door, where people go to institutional advancement and make large donations, but they’re not guaranteed in… I created a side door that guaranteed families to get in… that was what made it very attractive to so many families, I created a guarantee.”

This so called “side door” angered many people because despite the low numbers of children being helped into college illegally, so many kids work extremely hard to get in the right way instead of sacrificing their moral values. According to Ms. Newport, “The fact that they looked for a quick and unfair way is ultimately what is so disturbing. These parents are trading their values for an image.” This concept of image relates to other things like materialistic brands, fancy cars, and luxurious houses. Often times people at that level of wealth feel the need to show how far they have gotten. Children of the parents part of the scandal may still believe in buying exclusive things and as Ms. Newport perfectly states, “We all fall into this and we should be careful consumers.” The consequences are extraordinarily lighter when exhibiting success with nice clothes and cars. At times of desperation though like in the scandal Ms. Newport said that “parents simply want the best for their child, and  so that clouded their decision making.”

The issue is mostly about ethics, and the fact that these parents are sacrificing their morals and ethical values to propel their kids in life is the problem, not the exuberant display of wealth. This scandal is thought to be the tip of the iceberg in the world of college admissions because events related to the side and back doors of admission happen routinely. Recently the Boston Globe ran a story detailing one couple’s innocent plans to flip a Needham home. This home happened to belong to a premier Harvard fencing, and its value of about $500,000 was surpassed when Jie Zhao bought the modest home for close to a million dollars. Mr. Zhao, a wealthy Maryland businessman then sold the house 17 months later for a loss of $324,500. It turns out that the man had two sons who were prominent fencers from the prestigious St. Albans school, had almost straight A transcripts and had notched a near-perfect SAT score. Both sons ended up getting into Harvard through the fencing team which they had been practicing for their whole lives, and their story exposes transactions that give wealthy parents an “in” to get their kids in good schools.