The FBI charged 50 people on March 12 with conspiring in a multi-billion dollar bribery scheme that enabled students with subpar grades from wealthy families to attend elite universities, such as Yale, Georgetown, USC, and Stanford. High-profile college admissions consultant William Singer was charged, along with 33 parents and numerous college athletic coaches. The allegations ranged from rigging SAT scores to paying off college coaches to falsify claims that the students were recruits in sports that they had never played.
While many Americans were shocked and outraged when the news broke, others claim that the scandal comes as no surprise and that substandard students have been granted undeserving admission due to their wealth for decades. The idea that mediocre students could take well-deserving students’ places at top-tier institutions is one that is hard to swallow.
This story illustrates an apparently abhorrent, illegal, and selfish use of wealth. However, it is important to note that access to higher education is skewed towards the often-white upper class in many legal ways, as well. The college admissions process has long been a game of the rich. For example, wealthy parents can donate large sums of money to a prestigious university to give their children an upper hand or students can claim legacy status.
For decades, people of color have pointed out the inequalities that exist in college admissions, illustrating the numerous ways in which those who are wealthy (and white) are favored over other applicants. Yet, minorities have still been blamed for the imbalances in college-bound populations. Hopefully, this scandal will finally make clear to the rest of America what minorities have been saying for years: though a college education is widely regarded as the clearest path for upward mobility in the United States, the admissions process is one created by and for the elite.
These charges further demonstrate a lack of regulation of the education industry–one that was built by the powerful to maintain the status quo. This scheme should motivate wide-sweeping alterations to the admissions process that can close the socioeconomic gap in education, rather than widen it with flawed morals of a few famous and wealthy people. While there is no clear-cut answer to this complex and chronic issue, it is now the responsibility of the institutions to reform the admissions process; they must focus their attention to simplifying applications, investing in low-income students, and increasing inclusivity in admissions standards.
In a world where money can overtake academic qualifications in under-the-radar schemes like this one, it is easy to become frustrated with the system. Nevertheless, we cannot forget what a privilege it is to pursue higher education. Universities should be meccas of integrity and merit-based recognition, and institutions of higher education cannot afford to be breeding grounds for entitlement and greed.
Although we are students ourselves, we are not naive and understand that universities–including our own–are businesses as well as institutions of learning. While schools need large amounts of money to sustain their high quality, they must prioritize their long-term commitment to education and excellence. Instead of granting a coveted spot to a student whose parents will shell out a new athletic center or library wing, admit the student who truly earned their spot and can give back to the institution in the long run–in reputation, prestige, and donations.