A Case of the Blues

Author: Robert King   |   Posted on: March 15, 2019

A Case of the Blues

This week a nationwide scandal exposed what federal prosecutors describe as a corrupt exchange of wealth, fame and influence for student admissions to the nation's most elite universities.  About 50 people were accused of participating in a scheme to cheat on admissions tests and admit students to leading institutions based on fake athletic profiles and distorted SAT and ACT scores obtained through bribes. The scandal is being called the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted.

The FBI dubbed the college admissions scheme as “Operation Varsity Blues”.  FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said some spent up to $6.5 million to guarantee admissions for their children.  The scandal exposed glaring weaknesses in a system built on trust, and added to the doubts about fairness in admissions, and renewed debate over the enduring power of wealth to influence who gets into the most prestigious universities. 

Much of the indictment revolves around William Rick Singer, the founder of a for-profit college counseling and preparation business known as The Key.  Singer pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and money laundering.

In addition to the obvious illegalities of this scheme, a larger web is woven.  The larger picture is one of ensuring generational wealth (in terms of degrees and lucrative careers) to families that was not earned based on any qualifications.  For every student admitted through this fraud, an honest and qualified student was rejected.  Terms such as “pay to play”, “stolen valor” and “Affirmative Action” come to mind.

Anyone who claims unearned military medals or decorations is remanded for stolen valor.  There is no difference here.  There should be no doubt that the parents in this scheme did the paying.  However, the unqualified students were also old enough to know it was wrong to steal the valor of other possibly better-qualified students. 

Some students also deal with classmates’ suspicions that their skin color, not their academic achievements, got them into college.  But the ones who had unjustly earned slots were wealthy, mostly white and academically unqualified.   It seems that money was the real Affirmative Action all along!

The largest disservice may be in the devaluation of degreed status.  Legitimate degrees may be devalued as prospective employers question whether that student was admitted based on their own merits, versus having parents who were willing to “pay to play”. 

The College Board, which owns the SAT, said charges against Singer and others sent “a clear message that those who facilitate cheating on the SAT — regardless of their income or status — will be held accountable.” The ACT also commended law enforcement. 

Law enforcement deserves every praise.  However, there needs to be higher standards and penalties for those who willingly steal the valor of others.   The University of Southern California, Yale University, and several other elite colleges are being sued by two Stanford University students who claim they were denied a fair opportunity for admission and have had their degrees devalued due to the college cheating scheme.

Regardless of the outcome of this trial and lawsuit, questions will remain.  Will this deter these fraudulent actions in the future?  Are there other actions that can be done?  And who is responsible to ensure this doesn’t recur?

To the U.S. Department of Education, from whom we have not yet heard, College Matrix suggests the creation of a scholarship fund for qualified students, built on fines imposed on the culprits involved in any such scheme.  The fund could be collected from refunds from the colleges of payments made to them for tuition and fees of illegitimate students, fines from the colleges due to the illegal actions of their employees, fines from the bribing persons, and fines from middlemen and fraudsters, such as Singer, who were directly involved.   In this manner, everyone involved has an active reason not to engage in this behavior and to prevent it from recurring.   The behavior demonstrated by those caught in Operation Varsity Blues should never be allowed to taint our honest, hard-working students.