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Fallout of the admissions scandal at selective institutions

Last week the country reeled after the revelation of what the Justice Department calls “its largest college admissions prosecution.” 50 individuals have been charged for participating in a scheme to rig the admissions processes of highly selective institutions. At the heart of the scandal is William Singer, CEO of the college admissions prep company The Key, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. Singer acknowledged that his company helped students “cheat on the SAT and ACT” as well as use connections with Division I coaches to bribe them in order to create “fake athletic credentials.”

The way the scandal was carried out was that parents of students would make sizable donations to Key Worldwide Foundation, a charity that acted as a “…front used to launder the money parents paid him.” US Attorney Andrew Lelling said. Singer would then use that money to bribe coaches to make favorable recommendations for students during the selection process.

In regards to how Singer orchestrated cheating on the standardized tests parents, according to an article in CNN, would pay “$15,000 and $75,000 per test” to ensure that their children got higher scores than they actually earned. Singer arranged a third party to take the test in the students’ stead and “replace their answers.” The money was used to bribe test administrators to allow the third party to take the tests.

To what extent students knew that their scores were being falsified as well as their application information varies. A select few, prosecutors argued, were fully aware of their parents’ actions while others were blissfully unaware. One case, in particular, came cited in The New York Times described how a student, who had fraudulently been recruited as a track athlete, was asked about his participation in the sport by an admissions officer in an interview. The student reportedly denied ever participating in Track. The parent described this as a “glitch” to Singer in a phone call.

Even though some students were unaware of their participation in the scheme some colleges are considering still holding them responsible and thus resending enrollment and acceptance. The colleges’ basis is that every student must sign a statement stating that all the information in their application is, in fact, true and that fraudulent information is grounds for rejection. The University of Southern California is one such college that is debating whether or not to retract the enrollment of current students who benefitted from the scandal. In a Twitter post, the university says it “placed holds on the accounts of students who may be associated with the alleged admissions scheme.” The university also stated that “expulsion” was being considered when reviewing the students’ cases.

If an institution does choose to take immediate action there is the possibility that they’ll punish the wrong students. Singer and a select few associates of his are the only ones to have pled guilty to participating in the scandal and the actual court proceedings for the other defendants could take some time. The worry is some of the defendants may be exonerated at the end of the trial leaving the possibility that universities could expel a student who legally did nothing wrong. The director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School Berit Berger stated that expelling students now who are exonerated later is “not a good look” for any institution. Berger also raised the question about students who are implicated with the scandal who have already graduated. “Do you pull the parchment?” she asked referring to the diplomas given upon graduation.

This places colleges in a difficult situation. Many students who are not implicated in the scandal feel that students who have gotten into their college via illegal means should not be allowed to continue studying there, while at the same time, institutions would prefer to only expel those proven guilty and not risk lawsuits in the future.


Sources: The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, CNN

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