By Abby Wargo
Last Tuesday the FBI charged dozens of people — including celebrities Lori Laughlin, Aunt Becky of “Full House” fame, and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman — in what is most likely the largest college admissions scandal in history. But for plenty of college students, the reality of special treatment based on wealth is all too real. I, for one, am disappointed but not surprised.
Federal prosecutors charged upwards of 50 people involved in a large-scale scheme to offer parents a “side door” into prestigious universities, such as Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown, according to the New York Times. At the top of the scandal is William “Rick” Singer, a longtime college admissions counselor who consulted wealthy parents on cheating their children’s way into school. Thirty-three parents were also charged as well as college athletic coaches who accepted bribes in exchange for student admission.
The two main ways the scheme worked were by either fabricating test scores or lying about athletic prowess to gain admission. In some cases, other people would take the SAT or other standardized tests for the students or their scores would be doctored afterward. In others, photos were edited, and athletic achievements falsified. Another New York Times article said, “Most elite universities recruit student athletes and use different criteria to admit them, often with lower grades and standardized test scores than other students.” Singer and his system allegedly benefited from loopholes such as these.
The public outcry that has ensued has been immense, and rightfully so. Last Wednesday, two Stanford students filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing eight different schools of negligence on the behalf of qualified students that were rejected. Affirmative action was also used to game the system, something that students of color are enraged by.
It is a well-known fact that colleges, especially private ones, are businesses. It costs money to keep a school going, and they rely on student tuition in order to function. This alternate admissions process confirms what we already know: Money is more important than merit to some schools and administrators. A student that can pay the full price of tuition without any loans or financial aid will usually be given precedent over a more academically qualified student that cannot afford a school outright.
In an era where a college education is a necessary step on the ladder of success but still financially unattainable for most Americans (hello, student loans), this scandal sheds light on these iniquities.
The worst part of all this is thinking about the students that were not accepted to these universities because their spot was taken by someone like Laughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli. With a (now-dropped) sponsorship with Sephora and nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers, she wasn’t even interested in furthering her education. In one of her YouTube videos where she talks about moving into her dorm at University of Southern California, she says outright that she will not be attending classes and only wants to go to college for “game days and partying.” Laughlin allegedly paid $50,000 to designate her as a crew team recruit, ensuring her acceptance.
Not only is it embarrassing that these kids couldn’t get into college without their parents shelling out thousands of dollars to do so, but it’s upsetting that they are so blinded by their own privilege to realize that there is more to school than binge drinking in a stadium parking lot. For the hundreds, thousands, millions of more disadvantaged students, they must fight their way in to even have a chance at a good education.
I sincerely hope that this case is a turning point in this ongoing crisis for equal access to education. There is a long road ahead, however, and real change cannot happen without changing the mindset of those in positions of privilege and power.