PRESS EDITORIAL: Some study and worry, others bribe and cheat

Anyone who isn’t mad as hell about the college admission fraud scheme revealed by federal prosecutors last week must be numb.

There may be worse white-collar crimes, but few are affronts as personal and painful to millions of American families as these offenses by affluent parents and their crooked enablers.

Fifty people were charged with bribery and other forms of cheating to get their sons and daughters into elite colleges.

News of the arrests for crimes that included parents bribing college coaches to give athletic scholarships in sports that the students didn’t even play and paying test administrators to let someone smarter than their kids take tests was especially galling because many of those charged fit the profile of the rich and famous.

A U.S. attorney announcing the charges described the perpetrators as representing “a catalog of wealth and privilege.”

Even without criminal assistance, the children of the accused parents had the advantage of starting the race for college admissions far ahead of most middle-class students. They had the financial wherewithal to attend exclusive prep schools and have the help of highly-paid tutors and college-entrance-exam coaches plus the ability to pay for expensive educations at prestigious private universities.

But that wasn’t enough. Their parents still had to cheat, and the conspirators they paid found creative ways to do the dirty work. According to prosecutors, faces of students seeking phony sports scholarships were Photoshopped onto images of outstanding high school athletes. Expert test takers were hired to take SAT tests in the eastern time zone and phone the answers to clients whose children were waiting to take the tests on the West Coast.

The contrast of this disgusting story with the experience of mainstream American families that play by the rules in aspiring to acquire the college degree that is a requisite for successful careers for their children could not be more stark.

Their experience is about hard effort to get decent grades, sweating out SAT and ACT tests, working to craft persuasive college applications and then finding ways to pay tuition and college living expenses. Many of these students have to work at jobs while attending college.

Others have to borrow and graduate with staggering debt from student loans.

Criminal conspiracy to get around admission standards is rare (one hopes), but still the outrageous offenses detailed by prosecutors draw attention to the fact that the process of getting accepted for college is less than fair even when there is no cheating.

The playing field is especially skewed in the case of recruited athletes.

A recent study concluded that an athlete was 30% more likely to be admitted to a college or university than an ordinary student.

The researchers found that athletes entered colleges and universities with weaker education records and consistently underperformed academically.

Even when it is employed in perfectly legal ways, wealth can be a great unleveler in college admissions. It has been ever thus: Children of people who make large donations to colleges get favorable treatment.

A frequently cited example is Jared Kushner of the Trump family and administration. When Kushner’s father gave $2.5 million to Harvard University, his son was promptly accepted as a student despite grades and test scores that were well below Harvard’s standards, as reported in a book titled “The Price of Admission.”

On the brighter side, it can be said that in spite of the unfairness and occasional abuses, the system seems to work. Millions of young American men and women of modest means manage to get college degrees every year and use their educations in ways that support society. Public universities that are generally easier to get into and cost less than elite private schools play a big role in this.

On that note, a ranking of schools by Businessweek magazine is of interest. It ranked the University of Wisconsin-Madison tied for first with Harvard in producing CEOs of large companies.    

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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