College Admissions And Bribery

Federal prosecutors charged 50 people on Tuesday in schemes to bribe their children into elite colleges. These indictments are probably only the tip of the iceberg of illicit efforts by parents to unfairly assist their children. Based on the sizes of bribes most of the offenders are wealthy individuals.

It should be noted that not all the children were aware of the illegal behavior of their parents, and none of them were charged with crimes.

It’s understandable that caring parents want to do whatever they can to help their kids gain admission into the best colleges. They know a diploma from a top-notch institution is often a requirement to obtain the most prestigious and lucrative jobs after graduation in most fields of endeavor. But the assistance of parents should not offset the academic and athletic shortcomings of their children. In America the expectation is that the most qualified students, not the wealthiest, will gain admission to the best colleges.

The people who were caught up in a complex web of bribery included school administrators, athletic directors and a number of employees of the test taking organizations. The operation involved millions of dollars. And, many laws have been broken. It will be interesting to see whether offending parents will do real jail time in for their efforts to help their children.

One of the most offensive aspects of the sordid affair is that deserving students are denied admission when undeserving students take spots illegally. Throwing gasoline on the fire is that illegal bribes, money laundering and improper used of tax exempt organizations occurred. In fact some of the bribes were made through not-for-profits so the parents could deduct them for tax purposes.

Elite colleges raise enormous amounts of money each year, much of which is provided by alumni and added to significant endowments. This is a tradition that has gone on for years. In most cases there is no quid pro quo for the donations. Sometimes big donors get ego appointments to boards of trustees and prime seats to football and basketball games.

The real problems surround the money paid before a new student gains, or does not gain admission. Every year large grants are promised based upon admission. These arrangements are totally legal but considered the darker side of college development activities. In essence some students gain admission over other more qualified students because their parents can afford to make a large contribution to the school.

It would be more appropriate, fairer, less conspiratorial and more palpable to admission equality for colleges to not accept promises of money before a student applies. But many colleges need the flow of donations each year to offset increasing costs (except those institutions with large endowments), so it’s unlikely that colleges will change their current fund raising tactics.

Seems to me that the baked in advantages of the well-to-do over other students (white vs. color, private school vs. public school, tutors vs. no tutors, single parent families vs. two parent families, etc.) should not be expanded because parents of a student applying are prepared to make a 5, 6 or 7 figure donations contingent upon acceptance. Perhaps the current scandal will move Congress to address this growing problem and inequality.

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