Over 50 people were charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday, March 12, because of their involvement in a conspiracy to allow their children to attend affluent universities under false pretenses despite not having the qualifications to attend the university. The people involved include actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, nine coaches, entrance exam administrators and proctors, a college administrator and others who schemed to help the children of wealthy people get into esteemed schools such as the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and more.
Parents, with the help of a college admission preparatory company, cheated their children into positions they didn’t belong in. They allowed their children to take spots on athletic rosters in place of students more deserving to attend these institutions. They allowed others to take their children’s SAT and ACT exams to get better scores to make them appear as if they deserved to go there. On top of the obvious shame and humiliation they brought upon their children, they are also not doing them any favors by allowing them to bypass the adversities of the college admissions process. However, the biggest issue this scandal shines a bright spotlight on is the excessive and over-exaggerated importance placed on attending a name-brand institution.
A few weeks back, Theodore Kim of the New York Times tweeted out a list of schools he said are constantly producing the best journalists. To no one’s surprise, the list was full of elite schools that cost at least $40,000 a semester to attend. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been such a big deal if Kim was just a staff member, but he runs the extremely competitive and acclaimed New York Times Fellowship Program, which accepts graduating students and trains them in the New York Times newsroom for a year. While Kim has apologized for these tweets and has started a list of smaller colleges producing quality journalists, his original tweets expose the cycle of privilege perpetuated by these elite institutions.
Often times, the students who were legally accepted and attend these universities are there because their family is a legacy of the institution and therefore are given priority admissions. They are not solely accepted on their qualifications, but because their parents or grandparents went there before them and now their parents want them to go there — and can afford to pay the tuition. Other times, the student’s parents made a large donation the school before or after their child was accepted, which is anything but coincidental. But it’s legal, as Dr. Dre showed us after his daughter was accepted to USC when he donated $70 million dollars to the university.
These students benefit from their privilege by being accepted to the university, then benefit from the privilege afforded to them by the brand-name of their school. These students are given access to the best of the best programs and jobs, such as the New York Times Fellowship Program, as Mr. Kim inadvertently pointed out. Yes, the people who have gone along with this scheme are being punished now, but the investigation shows this has been going on for decades. Will those who have benefitted from this system already be brought to justice? Don’t hold your breath on it. Thus, the cycle of privilege continues.
It is important to point out these situations do not apply to all of the students that are enrolled at these institutions, and there are those who actually are qualified to attend the Yales and Stanfords of the world. However, not all of them come from a privileged background and have to sacrifice basic human necessities to make ends meet to attend class, or they end up dropping out because of the extra strain. Their presence has been chalked up by those who did not get into these universities as benefits of Affirmative Action, saying they stole the positions and did not deserve to be at the university. Let the record show that they weren’t the students who didn’t belong at these schools.
To those students who attend state schools in order to afford higher education, or did not get into their dream school, the importance placed on elite institutions and degrees makes their achievement of a college degree seem lesser — of accomplishment and importance. A college degree is a college degree and society as a whole needs to start recognizing that talent doesn’t just stem from the halls of Yale and Stanford, but also state colleges and smaller universities. Just because someone paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to get their degree does not make them more qualified — their work and experiences do.
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