I grew up in a blue-collar family and earned admission to an Ivy League university based on good grades and high test scores. So I was outraged to learn Tuesday of an alleged college admissions scam under which rich parents are accused of paying a total of about $25 million in bribes to fraudulently get their students admitted to some of America’s top universities.
I’m sure that many people around the country who’ve worked hard for what they have – including those who come from poor and blue-collar backgrounds – are furious as well.
America is the land of opportunity, where regardless of your background or economic standing you have the ability to create a better life for yourself and your children. Like millions of other Americans, I’m a product of that meritocracy.
My great-grandparents and one grandparent immigrated to America to escape persecution in Eastern Europe. While they didn’t speak any English upon arrival, they were willing to work hard.
My father built upon that work ethic and became an electrician. Although he didn’t have a college degree, he instilled financial and life lessons in his own children. That allowed me, in turn, to put in my own hard work and get into an Ivy League school on merit.
I can’t imagine being turned down for admission to the university of my choice because someone who didn’t put in the same work or effort that I did to do well in high school cheated the system.
While my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my education, I paid my way with the help of academic scholarships, by working while studying, and by taking out loans. I was able to attend The Wharton School of Business at The University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, achieve good grades, become successful and achieve the American Dream.
My story is not unusual. It is the story of many millions of Americans and why our country is a magnet for immigrants from around the world.
Unfortunately, there are people who like to look for shortcuts. If true, the alleged college admissions scandal spelled out in an indictment by federal prosecutors in Boston Tuesday is a stunning example of this.
Thirty-three wealthy parents were indicted, along with the founder of an admissions consulting company, over a dozen college athletic coaches, two test administrators and a test proctor.
Among the rich and famous parents charged in the alleged scam were actresses Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman.
According to prosecutors, some coaches took bribes to falsely say students who were not actually competitive athletes were being recruited to join school sports teams. In other cases, cheating was allegedly used to inflate student SAT and ACT test scores – including using a skilled test-taker to pose as students whose parents had paid for the fraud.
This admissions fraud fuels the fire of the debate of the “haves vs. the have nots” in society. It creates the impression that – while this admissions scandal is likely a rare practice – all you need is to be born wealthy to buy your way into a better life, while those not born into wealth are doomed to a life with little or no economic mobility.
This abuse of the system took away spots at prestigious universities from those who put in the effort to earn those spots without using connections or money. This was a tremendous injustice to these students.
I know how meaningful it was for me to be able to see the fruits of my own efforts rewarded. I can’t imagine being turned down for admission to the university of my choice because someone who didn’t put in the same work or effort that I did to do well in high school cheated the system.
Those who try to game the system also devalue the educations of people who earned their admissions on merit – especially those who come from more modest backgrounds. It sullies the value of the education and creates a perception that we also must have done something wrong or unsavory by having the same degree as those who bought it.
Moreover, this admissions fraud fuels the fire of the debate of the “haves vs. the have nots” in society. It creates the impression that – while this admissions scandal is likely a rare practice – all you need is to be born wealthy to buy your way into a better life, while those not born into wealth are doomed to a life with little or no economic mobility.
Rich people who use their money to cheat and get around the rules that apply to the rest of us give talking points to anti-capitalist, anti-American politicians and activists who seek to tear down our system. In fact, cheating is the anti-American behavior.
Sadly, the alleged perpetrators of the purported college admissions scam had abundant resources available to them, including strong secondary schools and tutors, to give their kids a legitimate advantage in applying to college.
Karma will likely catch up with these bad actors because when you aren’t qualified or hardworking, you will eventually be found out. But that karmic justice does little to quell initial anger related to their actions.
Hopefully, an example will be made of the perpetrators in this scandal to help preserve the notion that regardless of your background, America truly does allow you to succeed on your merits.