Yesterday federal prosecutors announced that charges were being brought against dozens of people who allegedly were involved in a scheme to use bribery and fraud to get kids admitted into elite American schools. The investigation — code-named Operation Varsity Blues — swept in Hollywood stars, corporate executives, and high-powered lawyers, all of whom allegedly took illegal steps to game the college admissions process. The U.S. attorney who announced the results of the investigation and the arrests called the parents “a catalog of wealth and privilege.”
The prosecutors says it’s the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the federal government. Charges were announced against fifty people, including nine college coaches and 33 parents, who are collectively accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes to college coaches and administrators. Individual parents were alleged to spend between $200,000 and $6.5 million in the scam, and allegedly hired an “admissions consultant” to make the bribes, falsely present their kids as star athletes to increase their chances of admission, and hire people to take admissions tests in their children’s stead.
The schools involved — which included elite institutions like Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown — are not targets of the investigation, and some said they were victims of the alleged scam. No students are being prosecuted, either. The alleged scam involved college coaches in sports like soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball being bribed to put students on lists of recruited athletes, which helped their admissions chances, and parents claiming their kids had learning disabilities that would give them privacy and extra time to take admissions tests and facilitate tampering with scores.
The scam says something sad about the parents who were caught in the dragnet and allegedly participated in the scheme. They apparently have so little confidence in the actual abilities of their kids, and so much confidence in the allure of elite colleges, that they are willing to participate in fraud and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get their kids in the door, figuring that a degree from one of those schools is all their kids need to secure their futures. In short, the parents don’t think it’s a meritocracy out there in the real world, and if you’ve got a degree from the right school it will put you on Easy Street for the rest of your days.
The college admissions process is a tough time for parents and students alike, and often the process doesn’t seem fair. This scandal isn’t going to help that perception. As the article linked above states: “The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions — sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents — and that privilege begets privilege.” How many parents who are stressing about their kids and colleges are going to think about that come admissions time?