Editorial: Scandal reveals flaws in admissions process


Emily Tan & Nicole Tian

Last month, federal prosecutors charged over fifty people for their involvement in a college admissions scandal in which, among other illegal practices, parents of college applicants allegedly paid large sums of money to falsify standardized test results or have their children recruited for sports they did not play. Athletic coaches and administrators from elite colleges like the University of Southern California, UCLA, Yale, Wake Forest, Georgetown and Stanford were implicated in the conspiracy.

In an academically rigorous environment like ours, the rationale behind each family’s decision will no doubt be the subject of important ethical conversations. Yet this scandal also brings to light a deeper and more systemic problem embedded in the college admissions process: the misuse of power and privilege. The misrepresentation of the students’ talents was facilitated by the thousands of dollars their parents – many of whom are wealthy CEOs and celebrities – allegedly funneled into the process. The scandal serves as a manifestation of just one of the many ways that economic privilege plays a powerful and unjust role in our higher education system.

The scandal serves as a manifestation of one of the many ways that economic privilege plays a powerful and unjust role in our higher education system.”

Donations and legacy admissions, or the preference of a university to accept students based on their family’s prior attendance, are two of the ways this privilege manifests itself in the process. Donations in bad faith often consist of a parent donating a building or wing of a building to a university in order to guarantee admission for their child. This guarantee is unfair, allowing for students to effectively buy their way into universities if they have enough money. And not all universities need to accept these donations of bad faith; many of the elite schools which receive these large donations already have endowments in the billions of dollars.

While the admissions scam demonstrates an extreme case of privilege’s role in the process, some systematic agnosticism of applicants’ donating capabilities could be beneficial and morally responsible of colleges. Though the prospect of receiving fewer donations is unappealing, it far outweighs the status quo, a pay-to-get-in mentality for those who have access to enough money and an unfair disadvantage for those who do not have similar amounts of money.

More generally, the college admissions process has never been completely merit-based, as it has encouraged side channels into admissions by allowing alternative forms of influencing college decisions to exist. The process must undergo a systematic change to make decisions closer to truly fair.