The U.S. Department of Justice faced a record breaking scandal when it was revealed on March 12 that at least 50 people were being indicted in a college admissions-related prosecution, also known as Operation Varsity Blues. Although there is a sizeable amount of people being charged, much focus has shifted onto the wealthy parents who are accused of utilizing their staggeringly large net worth to get their children into some of America’s highest-ranking universities such as Yale, USC and UCLA. The methods used to ensure a spot for their children at these elite universities primarily include cheating on the SAT and feigned athletic scholarships.
This revelation paved the way for a reintroduction of ideas into the realm of public discussion, primarily on how the educational system is balanced in favor of the rich. Some have started to suggest doing away with the SAT, as it was a highly used medium by the parents to get their kids into an admissions spot. While it is sensible to point out how education is usually catered towards those with more money, trying to replace or completely get rid of standardized testing isn’t a be-all, end-all solution to the issue. It isn’t a far-fetched idea to point out that money can also lessen the severity of consequences, but that shouldn’t be the case. The parents who have been charged should be held accountable for attempting to enroll their children into top universities in such a dishonorable way.
The SAT has faced consistent scrutiny throughout the years, mostly through the belief that it isn’t a good indicator of college performance. To back up this statement, Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute, a think tank that specializes in social and economic policy research, found in a study that high school GPA was a better predictor of college achievement than the SAT was. On top of this, there is evidence of a high correlation between SAT scores and family income. After all, this makes sense, as more wealth does mean that families will have more access to tools to succeed on the SAT: private tutors, prep courses and the ability to take the test multiple times, just to name a few.
However, the problem with this admissions scandal in terms of the SAT wasn’t the fact that the parents used their wealth to access more ways for their children to get a better score; the parents explicitly directed their spending towards cheating on the SAT. Some tactics included paying other people to take the SAT for their children or having proctors correct the students’ answers after the test. Additionally, the SAT has changed in recent years, pointing to the possibility that the test is attempting to improve itself. The most recent change came in 2016 when the SAT shifted from its 2400 scoring scale back to 1600, what it previously was. In addition to the scoring changes, College Board President David Coleman stated that the new test attempts to incorporate questions more relevant to a student’s learning curriculum.
Again, this doesn’t take away from the notion that students who come from a more affluent background are advantaged when it comes to standardized testing in general. Yet at the same time, it’s worth wondering if there will ever be a system established where the rich aren’t given the upper hand due to the vast amount of resources they will always have to prepare their kids for educational success.
In relation to the wealthy having the means to properly provide guidance for their children in standardized testing, the bribery scandal has also upheld the idea that the rich have always been pulling strings for their children to get into top-tier colleges. An example to further solidify this sentiment includes private college consulting, a legal and unregulated industry that parents are willing to siphon millions of dollars into in order to ensure their child has a fighting chance against the nation’s most cutthroat universities.
Another example is legacy admissions, a controversial tool used by colleges such as USC and Harvard in which ample (though not explicitly stated how much) consideration is given to applicants whose family members attended the university. Harvard officials have defended legacy admissions, citing that it connects the school to alumni, many of whom are major donors to the school. One of the oldest tricks in the book is donations, though this is starting to prove more costly. Nowadays, it can cost up to $10 million or more in order to give legitimate consideration to an unqualified applicant.
Many students have found the bribery scandal to be unsurprising, and the fact that the reaction to the unfolding of this story wasn’t met with overwhelming feelings of shock or surprise speaks to the magnitude of how society is generally aware that the education system is flawed and also in favor of the wealthy. There have been attempts to try and balance the system out for the masses through mechanisms such as affirmative action, but that in itself brings up a whole other set of problems as it seemingly perpetuates racial stereotypes and wrongfully penalizes Asian-Americans. Tracing the broken educational system in America to its origins will likely reveal improper investment in our country’s public education, especially in neighborhoods of low-income.
Many of the parents involved are facing charges and are still appearing in court, but a lot of questions are now being aimed at the fate of the currently enrolled children, some of whom prosecutors say were unaware of the ways their parents schemed to get them into their respective universities. However, prosecutors also haven’t completely turned a blind eye to the possibility that the students could be charged. The universities the students attend have dealt with the scandal in mixed ways, some suspending current student accounts and some still awaiting more information in order to act appropriately. It’s fair to say that there exist students who weren’t aware of the bribery scandal and genuinely want to invest in their education. But the public has also been confronted with evidence from some students who openly regarded school as unimportant, and those are the ones who should be met with harsher consequences.
Olivia Jade Giannulli, perhaps one of the biggest names to come out of the scandal, is known for her beauty and lifestyle videos on YouTube, where she has millions of fans. In a now-deleted video, Giannulli is heard saying “I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.” The video caught minor backlash from the time it was posted and Giannulli already apologized for her “super-ignorant” comments, yet it still stands that she also made a point to say how her career as a social media influencer conflicted with her school schedule at USC, which brings into question what the point was of her enrollment in such a competitive university if she didn’t have the time (nor the effort) to fully commit herself as a student. For now, it’s still unconfirmed whether or not Giannulli was aware of her mother’s actions prior to the scandal, but she still personifies the crux of the scandal: a statistically qualified student being robbed of a seat at a university and replaced with someone who isn’t as qualified or invested in their education.
Operation Varsity Blues spurred on important conversations about the way our country’s education industry is deeply flawed and it also showed concerning lengths that even the wealthy had to take in order to enroll their child at a high caliber college. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this scandal will foster a reformation in the way college admissions are run; some universities will likely still continue the longstanding tradition of legacy admissions and give consideration to students who hail from a family line of generous donors. In light of this disappointing reveal, colleges should make an effort to monitor their admissions more closely in order to ensure that such a large scale scandal doesn’t occur again.