College cheats

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The race to get into top-tier colleges in the US is annual but it has recently been discovered that the real contest lies in the money being paid through the back door to get a privileged child into a big-name university. In what US authorities are calling the largest ever college admissions bribery case, wealthy families allegedly paid college coaches and admission test insiders to rig the system and get their children admitted to top universities, including Yale, Stanford and the University of Southern California.

The case is looking at a period between 2011 and 2018 when, according to the authorities, $25 million in bribes were paid by parents - actors, business executives, doctors and lawyers - looking to sneak around the usual university admittance process. They did so by bribing test-center administrators to turn a blind eye to cheating, sneak students the correct answers in the exam room, inflate their scores when they finished, hire somebody to take the test instead of the student and forge medical documents to show the student is mentally challenged and thus needs more time to finish the test.

Academic manipulation was only one side of this story. An alleged sports scam was even more outrageous. Athletic coaches accepted bribes to recommend unqualified students to enter colleges on a sports scholarship. In some cases the heads of students would be photoshopped onto athletic bodies. In others, their basic stats would be manipulated. One so-called basketball player had his height changed from 5ft 5in to 6ft 1in.

Fifty people, including 33 parents and sports coaches, have been indicted thus far. Among the most jaw-dropping revelations was the alleged involvement of Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

The students in question and the college administrations say they had no idea this was happening, which might be true. Still, their professed innocence does not hide that what is thus happening is that the wealthiest families in America – all of them white – are getting their kids who have so-so grades into colleges using illegal methods.

It used to be that a wealthy parent would make a large donation to a university, such as funding a new building, to influence an admission decision, which is legal and so common that most of the American public believe that’s fair. What is not on the up and up is a system that favors the rich at the expense of the not so rich.

Elite colleges in the US are such a status symbol that parents are willing to break the rules to get their child a seat in them. That sends the wrong message to the children, the most concerning part of this story. The underlying ethos of life in America is that if you work hard, you move up. The message now is you move up by paying up. Taking students with no academic or athletic prowess and giving them a leg up is the antithesis of the American dream.

It doesn’t matter how talented the child is; it’s how well their parents can play this game of cheating to get ahead. It is no longer a level playing field. This harms the many thousands of outstanding, deserving students who study hard but must make way for those who don’t. The whole business of being admitted to elite colleges in America has indeed become a business, and a corrupt one at that.

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 American society. It bases a value system on privilege and elitism. This is not what America is supposed to be.

The raft of indictments suggests a nationwide conspiracy of very powerful and wealthy people paying exorbitant amounts to cheat their kids’ way into college. It has corrupted the underlying principal of accepting students based on merit.


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