University President: College admissions scandal proves system has been hijacked -- Here's how to fix it

The college admissions scandal described by federal prosecutors Tuesday when they announced charges against 50 people shows that the admissions process for elite institutions has gotten out of hand.

Every year highly competitive colleges and universities receive more applications for fewer spots. The pressure that parents and students put on themselves in middle school and high school to get into an elite institution has reached a fever pitch.

The charges announced Tuesday in Boston represent a new low. William Rick Singer, the head of a college admissions consulting company called the Edge College & Career Network, pleaded guilty to charges including money laundering, racketeering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States.


Authorities said Singer collected about $25 million since 2011 from wealthy families to bribe athletic coaches to recruit students falsely posing as athletes and to falsify SAT and ACT test results. The actions enabled students to gain admission to elite colleges that they otherwise likely could not have attended.

In addition, 33 wealthy parents – including some celebrities – were charged with paying bribes to gain college admission for their children, and more than a dozen college coaches, two test administrators and a test proctor were also charged with illegal actions.

Given the hyper-competitive atmosphere surrounding college admissions these days, this story should surprise no one.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As president of Alma College – a small liberal arts school n Alma, Michigan – I talk with a lot of parents and prospective students. The one thing I always say to high school students is to “enjoy your senior year.” Students need to academically challenge themselves, but they also need to remember that they will never have that senior year back.

There are roughly 5,000 colleges and universities across the country offering degrees, credentials and certificates.

Rather than making themselves miserable for years, I recommend that students find the institution that feels like a match for their passions, their skills and their aspirations. Their success in college and beyond will not be measured by the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.

Societally, in some cases, we have hyped “getting in” as “the end of the race,” but college isn’t about just getting in – it’s about graduating, succeeding and thriving.

A college education helps to prepare you for your life’s work, and your time in college is about finding and igniting your passions, not simply “getting in.”

Ask any college graduate to share a college memory and you’re certain to hear a story about something that happened in college – not about getting in.

This isn’t to say that students at elite institutions don’t find their passions. They do, and society is better for it. But students should go into the process recognizing that the best college for them – and the one that will bring the most rewarding experiences – can often be found at an unexpected institution.

Systematically, however, institutions need to evaluate admissions policies and ensure that all students are coming through “the front door.” Colleges and universities are only hurting other well-qualified, hard-working students by admitting students who are unqualified academically. Those institutions aren’t doing students any favors by admitting them if the students then drop out.

Alumni at every college across the land value their alma maters. That’s as it should be. Every college offers a unique experience and has unique strengths. As students begin to evaluate their own post-secondary needs, their top consideration should be finding the college that is the best match.