Liz Peek: College admissions scandal disproves claim that rich get whatever they want

Reaction to the college admissions scandal has been quick, righteous and predictable. It has also been wrongheaded.

Accusations that dozens of parents in some cases paid hundreds of thousands of dollars or over $1 million to get their kids into prestigious colleges by falsifying their SAT or ACT scores, or by misrepresenting their sports abilities, have been seized upon by leftists as further evidence that the U.S. skews in favor of the rich and famous.

But in some ways the story says just the opposite. If the children of well-known Hollywood actresses or rich business executives were automatically admitted to the school of their choice, they would not have had to resort to perpetrating these offensive frauds. The Key, the firm behind the alleged swindles, would not have been in business.


As she took the SATs, Isabelle Henriquez, daughter of parents charged by federal prosecutors, is alleged to have sat with a proctor who provided her with answers and helped boost her scores by 320 points, to 1,900 out of a possible 2,400

But despite the considerable jump, Isabelle’s test results would still have been too low to get her into Georgetown University. So authorities say that William Rick Singer, founder of The Key, also helped her create a phony claim that she was a top-notch tennis player.

To cap the deal, Singer allegedly paid one of Georgetown’s tennis coaches hundreds of thousands of dollars to award Isabelle one of the squad’s cherished spots, assuring her admission.

Isabelle’s father, Manuel Henriquez, was paid more than $8 million last year by the venture firm he founded. If money was all it took to get his daughter into Georgetown, he had the wherewithal to make that happen. But his daughter didn’t have what the university was looking for and it appears that short of cheating, her father could not buy her way in.

The left loves a story that bolsters its claims of inequity. Liberals assert that the top 1 percent rules the nation, and that the deck is stacked against everyone else. Twitter lit up Thursday with claims like this one:

“The #CollegeCheatingScandal is a great example of class privilege, which I wish more people would focus on than identity politics-based privilege. Rich people in this country frequently play by different rules than the rest of us.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., added her predictable two cents worth, tweeting:

“I guess college admissions isn’t that different from elections, where lots of money can buy your spot too.”

Sadly, that pitch, which has now become an article of faith on the left, resonates. The refrain that our country is not fair, that opportunities do not exist for all people, and that the playing field is so tilted that it is impossible to lift yourself up underpins the progressive platform.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are among those banking on an increasingly aggrieved electorate – voters who envy success, think they have been mistreated, and want the government to provide for them.

From there it is but a short hop to condemning capitalism, our economic system that rewards personal ambition and individual industry. And that leads to, possibly, the scariest message of all: that successful people and businesses have somehow gamed the system to their advantage. It is a claim that undermines the very essence of this country.

After all, calling someone a “millionaire” or “billionaire” is now a slur. How did that happen?

It is also a message that undermines all those well-meaning parents out there – rich and poor – who tell their kids to study the extra hour, to work at their sports and to practice the piano, because those efforts will make them successful.

If the deck is uneven, why even bother?

Here’s the hard truth: these purported misdeeds were perpetrated by dishonest and dishonorable people who also happen also to be rich. Sadly, bad behavior can be found at every level of society.

Are college admissions policies perfectly egalitarian? No. Successful high school athletes, legacies and numerous other groups get special treatment. But there are also a growing list of schools with admissions policies that are “need-blind” and others that today provide students from low-income families a full four-year ride.

Moreover, top schools across the country are intent on diversifying their student bodies, including along socio-economic lines.

Are there persistent advantages held by the wealthy? Yes. They send their children to the best schools they can, they provide their kids with tutors to help boost test scores, and they can sometimes help their offspring get useful internships. And the very well-heeled can attract the attention of college development officers with sizeable donations to colleges. Those are among the perks of success.


Nonprofits and high schools across the country are trying the narrow the gap by providing able candidates from low-income families with test prep. This is a worthy undertaking, and will help kids compete. It isn’t enough, but it’s a start.

The real message to be gleaned from the college scandal is how far some parents will go to give their kids every advantage, and how little attention is paid by some to gifts that are ultimately much more important than tutors or flute lessons – like the good values of honesty, decency and integrity. A diploma without those things is worthless.