It was on March 12 that news of the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal broke. Code-named by the FBI as “Operation Varsity Blues,” the scam resulted in the arrests of over 50 people for their involvement in a bribery and cheating scheme for top colleges to accept unqualified and ill-prepared children as students. Implicated were 33 wealthy, mostly white parents including a healthy sprinkle of celebrities and prominent business leaders. Some of the country’s top college athletic coaches, who accepted millions of dollars to help admit students who, in some cases, didn’t even play a sport.
When networks started releasing the story and headlines started popping up, there was a ripple effect of outward anger and surprise from the public. Except, it shouldn’t have been “surprising” news; it was simply a verification of what’s always been suspected. The U.S.’ system of college education is unfair for the majority — a societal need deemed “necessary for success” that’s designed for a primarily wealthy audience—and already-advantaged people cheating the process is not surprising in the slightest. Wealthy families are constantly legally boosting their college admissions chances — it’s all about loopholes. In fact, what’s surprising is that there were only 50 people arrested in “Operation Varsity Blues.”
The scandal shouldn’t just be about what’s illegal, but what’s legal as well. While those 33 parents chose the fraudulent route, it’s incredibly easy for rich and affluent people to be admitted to elite colleges without breaking any laws.
Donations: Ah, probably the most well-known and laziest of the loopholes. It’s no secret that wealthy alumni circle back and give money to their alma maters, and it’s not because they loved their college experience so much that they feel the need to commemorate it with a building. The checks that they sign are insurance policies for when their own children grow up and begin the college admissions process. Just last fall, an issue with donations was brought up in the Harvard University admissions trial — unearthing correspondence between Harvard officials discussing the connections between applicants and major donors.
Legacy admissions: In a process that The Century Foundation calls “affirmative action for the rich,” a majority of the United States’ top-100 colleges and universities give an advantageous boost to legacy admissions during the acceptance and recruitment processes. According to Inside Higher Ed, 42 percent of private colleges and universities in the U.S. (that’s nearly half!) and six percent of public colleges not only take into account if an applicant has alumni connections, but they look for them. Already in both cases, there’s an assurance that first-generation college students start at a disadvantage.
Standardized test prep/college consultants: The New York Times came out with an article last week reporting on the massively expensive, and yet completely legal, world of college consultants: families paying hundreds — even thousands of dollars for guidance and access to tutors, college prep courses and specialized classes.
Applying early decision: It’s 2019, and a majority of US colleges and universities now offer an early acceptance deal to applicants- agree in the fall to only consider one school, and you’re more likely to be admitted. It’s a safety net for colleges and universities in the form of a binding contract, and research has shown that it favors white and wealthy students.
In his press conference, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said, “There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add that there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”
It’s not true though; not only is there a seperate admissions system for the rich, it’s completely legal and in true American fashion, it’s completely disregarded and overlooked.
Emma Bickerstaffe is a second-year English writings major and journalism minor. EB891492@wcupa.edu