Higher education has been rocked by the extraordinary crackdown on the purchasing of admissions into some of the country’s top universities and colleges by wealthy families. The scheme by William “Rick” Singer, 58, raked in as much as $2.5 million per student through his Edge College & Career Network. Schools have long catered to the families of major donors. Jared Kushner for example has long been accused of getting into Harvard with mediocre grades after his father pledged $2.5 million. This scandal however is far more organized and widespread. That is most striking about the sting operation code-named “Operation Varsity Blues” is that, among almost 50 arrested individuals, are the large number of parents who are being charged.
Singer has pleaded guilty to organizing the conspiracy to used contributions to a scam charity to bribe school officials, particularly coaches. Among the charged were 33 parents, 13 coaches, and various associates of Singer. They are a Who’s Who of the top one percent from famous actresses to powerful business figures. This is a display of unhinged greed by coaches who held top positions at top universities. One of the charged coaches was the private tennis instructor for Michele Obama and her two daughters.
There were also test administrators who took bribes in the conspiracy, which began in 2011. What is interesting is that this included arrangements for wrong answers to be corrected as well as having third persons take the test. Singer would ask the parents in advance what score they wanted the child to receive.
No students have been charged and will presumably be allowed to stay at their schools. In at least one case, parents asked how they could keep their children from knowing about their rigging the process.
However, given that some of the payments were made to have third parties take standardized tests for some students, it is hard to imagine how the students were not aware of that scheme since they either did not take the test or had some extraordinary improvement in a later test score. There were also photoshopped images and staged photos where students pretended to be athletes. It is hard to see how some of those acts were done without the knowledge of the students.
That leaves the question of what to do with the kinder. It seems to me that there is little choice but to expel students who had to have had knowledge of the scheme by the fact that they did not take the test or posed for fraudulent pictures. That would be a question of academic honesty. Ironically, people like Kushner did not lie. Their families gave a huge amount of money to the school which decided that the money made the admission worth the cost of admitting a less competitive student. Many would object to the transaction but schools have long favored donors who helped pay for buildings or scholarships.
One glaring case involves the daughter of Actress Lori Loughlin. Olivia Jade, 19, was hardly enthusiastic about college, a sentiment shared with her large social media following. Yet Loughlin allegedly paid $500,000 to get her into the University of Southern California as well as her sister, Bella, 20. That money allegedly got the two daughters designated as recruits for the USC rowing team, even though neither is on the squad. Olivia then went on a video to her fans to discuss college and was asked, according to People, how she would balance her social media postings with college. The response is likely to be played back in court: “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying. … I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”
Well, we all now know.