By Logan Aviles
All applicants are equal, but some are more equal than others.
This paradoxical phrase rang true just a few months ago, following the biggest college admissions cheating scandal in the nation’s history. 51 defendants have been named in a conspiracy to game the college admissions system, doing everything from bribing coaches from colleges as elite as Yale to cheating on standardized exams. Parents have paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to Rick Singer, the college admissions officer who created the scheme, to falsify athletic credentials and inflate standardized test scores. Those who have pled guilty have gotten off with little punishment. The lightest sentence of those who’ve confessed is barely more than probation. Other light sentences include the impressive 14-day debt to society incurred by Emmy-winning actress Felicity Huffman. The heaviest sentence given so far is a mere five months, and in all cases, sentences have been reduced from what the prosecutors originally requested.
Considering that we’ve reached the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation surrounding the scandal, it is an opportune moment to analyze the scandal’s implications for the broader educational system.
There’s no doubt that education is key. And access to that education ought to be afforded on a meritocratic basis. With parents receiving light sentences and prosecutors compromising on punishment, it has become clear that the justice system does not fully appreciate the importance of higher education. Singer’s scheme and others like it undermine the opportunities of all students who put in the work to become an appealing applicant. When prosecutors let cheaters off with a slap on the wrist, elites are less likely to think twice about inflating their kid’s academic prospects, further widening the educational gap between the rich and the poor. Applications cannot fulfill their intended purpose if it comes into the best interest of all applicants to find new and inventive ways of misleading college admissions officers and exploiting vulnerabilities in the admissions process.
But besides Rick Singer and the parents who participated in this scheme, there is another party accountable: the schools themselves. The most alarming part of this story is not that elites are willing to game the admissions process—it’s that exploitable weaknesses in the admissions process ever existed in the first place. The college admissions scandal cannot be soon forgotten; it is a terrible mark on the integrity of higher education. Hopefully the arrests will lead to a new age of increased scrutiny and accountability that will improve the meritocracy of the educational system.