College cheating scandal: Can system be fixed?

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Speed Read

Who: Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among the dozens of prominent figures charged in a widespread cheating scam to get their children into elite universities.

What and when: Federal authorities dubbed their probe Operation Varsity Blues and have charged 50 wealthy and high-profile people in the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. Officials say accused ringleader William “Rick” Singer took up to $25 million in bribes.

Where: Singer lived in Newport Beach, Calif., and ran his college prep company there. A man in Florida is accused of being his master test taker, aided by people in Houston and Los Angeles. The colleges linked to the scandal include Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, the University of Southern California, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas and Wake Forest.

Why it’s sparking debate: While the notion that privilege buys power and access is nothing new, the breadth and length of this scam has shocked the nation and laid bare the inequities of the college admissions system.

What’s next: Two Stanford University students filed a class-action suit claiming they were “never informed that the process of admission was an unfair, rigged process, in which rich parents could buy their way into the university through bribery.”

The parents charged in the scandal could potentially face prison time if convicted. Singer has pleaded guilty to multiple charges and faces 10 to 20 years in prison.

The Hallmark Channel cut ties with Loughlin, who had been among the network’s “Christmas queens” starring in popular holiday movies. Loughlin’s role on the final season of Netflix’s “Fuller House,” which has not yet started production, may be in question.

Her daughter Olivia Jade, a social media influencer, has been dropped by beauty brands Sephora and TRESemmé, and her other deals could be at risk. She will not be returning to USC, according to People magazine.

The fallout has hit coaches and athletic officials and others named in the case, including Bill McGlashan, who was fired from private equity firm TPG; hedge fund CEO Manuel Henriquez, who has stepped down from Hercules Capital; and lawyer Gordon Caplan, who has been placed on leave by his New York firm.


The scandal reveals the darkest effects of our hypercompetitive approach to higher education.

“The very fact that such actions may have been perpetrated in concert among parents, test administrators, coaches, and perhaps university administrators reflects a fundamental problem in our society. Such a ‘winning trumps everything’ attitude creates a hollowness of true character in our children and perpetuates a values system founded upon the false idols of privilege and elitism.” — Shan Wu, CNN

This is white privilege at work, and kids of color suffer the price of admission.

“Your privilege is putrid. Your hypocrisy makes my stomach turn. Your inability, as scripture notes, to see the plank in your own eye, has left you blind to your vile ways. How dare your child be so mediocre and you still deem it fit they deserve excellence?” — Shenequa Golding, Vibe

Reform for school-counseling programs is needed to level the playing field for less privileged students.

“Until we change legislation on school-counselor funding and reform school-counseling programs, those from affluent communities will always have advantages — legal and illegal. As the investigation of this case continues, let us remember that many hardworking young people don’t have the means to hire private tutors to coach them through the SAT, or private counselors that may review and edit their college application essays.” — Mandy Savitz-Romer and Steve Desir, Hechinger Report

The college fraud has riled the left and right and could spur political intervention.

“All of this will invite more political intervention by making the admissions process look like the racket it too often is. … They will have to clean up their own houses or face political intervention that could get uglier than even these fraud indictments.” — Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Cheater parents rob kids of the chance to learn from failures.

“Even as adults, we want to believe the things we tell our kids. We desperately want it to be true that all it takes is hard work; that you hold your destiny in your hands. That you and you alone are in charge of your success. Only we know that’s not true. … sometimes in our quest for perfect parenting, we forget that real growth doesn’t happen in times of comfort; those indelible lessons come when we are forced to think in ways we otherwise wouldn’t have.” — Rene Syler, USA Today

Elite schools should adopt a lottery system.

“The struggle over college admissions has led to increasing costs, anxiety among American teens, and unfair perceptions of merit being the exclusive domain of elites. And, as the cheating scandal shows, it has led to corruption. These situations can be avoided if colleges take bold steps toward an admissions lottery.” — Natasha Warikoo, associate professor of education at Harvard University, Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The culture of appearance is exploding all sense of right and wrong.

“Why would so many respected people allegedly risk so much for something that ultimately matters so little? I suspect for the same reasons the Fyre Festival exploded — a pervasive culture of influence, surface appearances and the fear of missing out so great that you’ll do anything, even scam your child’s way into college, to avoid it. If you’re born on third base and don’t make it home, the whole team ends up looking a little silly.” — Gabrielle Bluestone, executive producer of the “Fyre” documentary, Washington Post

Shame on these parents who acted to serve their own egos, not help their kids.

“If they are guilty, then the parents charged do not see their kids as branches to be nurtured and left to grow in independent sunlight; they see them as reputational ornaments. You can’t be serious about education if you behave this stupidly. And you can’t act so recklessly and call it love. These parents, if guilty, were not helping their children. They were serving their own egos.” — Vinay Menon, Hamilton Spectator