Malcolm X once said that “if you see somebody winning all the time, he isn’t gambling, he’s cheating.”
Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they have charged 50 people in a massive case of cheating in which a university admissions consultant, wealthy helicopter parents, college athletic coaches, standardized test administrators and a test proctor ensured the acceptance of students into elite colleges and universities.
The idea was to guarantee winning all the time for children of rich parents seeking admission to prestigious colleges even if they weren’t qualified, prosecutors said.
William Rick Singer, who heads the Edge College & Career Network college consulting firm, collected about $25 million from wealthy parents between 2011 and February this year to get students into college under false pretenses, prosecutors said.
Authorities said Singer paid athletic coaches to pretend they were recruiting students to join school sports teams, and used a variety of methods to inflate the SAT and ACT scores of students – including hiring people to pose as students and take the exams for them.
Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges including racketeering, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Meanwhile, there’s a widespread – and false – perception that many qualified white and Asian-American students are being passed over in college admission in favor of underrepresented and undeserving students of color. Some rich white parents may have used this false perception to justify in their minds why cheating to get into college is justified.
The college admissions scandal announced Tuesday – in which Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among those charged – is troubling for several reasons.
First, the scandal shows the extent to which college admissions have become a big business and an industry.
The wealthy already have many institutionalized advantages to get their children into the colleges of their choice. These include admissions preferences for children of alumni, for students who don’t need financial aid, and for students whose parents donate money to colleges.
Yet the parents who paid Singer hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than $1 million in some cases believed they had to give their children a further leg up by buying admission to elite colleges, according to prosecutors.
Affluent parents have long paid companies fees of $1,000 and up to teach their children how to score higher on the SAT and ACT exams – but this is not the same thing as paying bribes or paying others to take the tests for their children.
Parents have also paid exorbitant fees for their children to play on AAU sports teams in hopes that they would earn college scholarships. But this is not the same as outright lying to claim a non-athlete can compete on the college level.
Now some wealthy parents stand accused of bypassing these measures and having someone take the SAT exam for their kid or paying a coach to recruit students regardless of their athletic abilities (or lack thereof).
However, the blame for unfairness in college admissions is hardly ever placed where it truly belongs. It is inordinately placed upon students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. These minority students still have the deck stacked against them, despite complaints about the “unfairness” of affirmative action.
A group known as Students for Fair Admissions is comprised of a dozen Asian-American men and women who were denied admission to Harvard University. Instead of simply investigating why they were rejected individually, they immediately followed the white supremacist trope that black, Latino and Native American candidates couldn’t possibly have been more qualified than them or have more of what the university’s admission staff was looking for.
“A black person has my spot” is a commonly used parlance by entitled students. It is a commonly held belief and one that has been the impetus for several high-profile lawsuits.
The claim that African-American and Latino students are receiving advantages that others don’t have is simply not true. According to U.S. News and World Report, “research supports the argument that it is white students – not Black or Latino – who have a systemic advantage in college admissions.”
In addition, if there is one problem with affirmative action it is that the reactionary right has watered it down to the point that it is often virtually ineffective. The New York Times reports that black and Latino students are even more underrepresented at the country’s elite colleges and universities now than they were 35 years ago.
Race and ethnicity represent a tiny fraction of the considerations in college admission – so small that former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy referred to it as a “factor of a factor of a factor” in the decision process.
In 2011 then-businessman Donald Trump questioned former President Obama’s admittance into Columbia and Harvard Universities, despite the fact that Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Trump’s implication was clear – Obama didn’t get into and graduation from these elite universities because he was smart, but only because he is black.
President Trump, on the other hand, refuses to release his college transcripts. A copy of the 1968 graduation program at The Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania appears to show that Trump did not graduate with any honors and did not make the dean’s list that year.
Feeding into the frankly racist perception that African-Americans have an unfair advantage over whites in college admissions, Trump told The Associated Press in 2011: "I have friends who have smart sons with great marks, great boards, great everything and they can't get into Harvard."
That certainly wasn’t the case with Trump’s son-in-law and now senior adviser in the White House, Jared Kushner.
According to ProPublica, sources at the private Frisch School, where Kushner attended high school, stated emphatically that Kushner’s academic qualifications did not meet Harvard’s standard and that there were several students who were better qualified who were not admitted.
But is certainly appears that money paved the way for Kushner to enter Harvard. His father made a $2.5 million donation to Harvard and young Jared quickly got the opportunity to stroll through the historic corridors of the elite university.
Jared Kushner’s admission is not an isolated case. According to Daniel Gordon, of the 400 major donors on Harvard’s Committee on University Resources, at least half had a child attend Harvard.
And according to studies, students from wealthier, whiter school also have their grades inflated much more than students who attended poorer, browner schools. Researchers suspect it is the aforementioned helicopter parents – who insist their kids be given high grades – who are responsible for this, along with the overbearing, entitled students themselves.
Most importantly, it shows that fancy GPAs from rich kids can sometimes mean very little.
We don’t know yet how widespread the admission scandal announced by prosecutors Tuesday really was. We don’t know if there are other admissions consultants and rich parents who are paying bribes to get this children into colleges improperly and illegally.
We do know that if there is a color to blame for how dysfunctional college admissions are, it is green – the color of money.