The 2019 college admissions scandal


Grey Tratenberg and Maxim Van Dorn

College is a dream that millions of kids seek, for sports, education, or careers.  Students always want to be accepted into a top-level high-school. Recently though, the dream to be accepted into college has become corrupted and biased, as money has now taken a huge role in acceptances into college. This scandal started with parents paying people to take the admissions test for their children, or bribing school officials into giving an open spot to their child, but it doesn’t stop there. Some students working their way to college may have lost the chance, thanks to their work and dedication being overthrown by greed and money.

Getting into college has always been an issue and a stressful moment for students of all class, but recently in the past couple of years there have been some people who have figured out some workarounds. These work arounds include many different money interactions. These handoffs are called the college scandals.

The acceptance of students into college as a result of cheating and money is a “loss of dignity, humanity and morality,” states Dr. Priscilla Sands, head of Marlborough. Children fighting to get into the schools of their dreams are not able to reach them if there will always be a student ahead of them with the resources to get in. The school systems were designed to let anyone get into their colleges whether they were financially stable or not. By basing a student’s admission off of what their parents own and what they can provide, the process of fair schooling and acceptance disrupted and corrupted.

Who is involved in this scandal?

The scandal includes celebrities that many people may have never thought would do anything like this. Lori Loughlin, Aunt Becky, from “Full House” was recently released on a bail of $1 million and is currently facing up to 40 years in prison for paying bribes to get her daughters into college.

Celebrities have already begun to weigh in on the topic, many like “Star Trek” actor, George Takei, tweeted saying “2019 is about witnessing how privileged, unethical people get out of more jail time and their children into elite universities”.

Another celebrity with a point to add was Meredith Salenger, who tweeted saying, “It is such a disservice to their children. So much entitlement. Teaches that (you) don’t have to work hard. It is disgusting. Especially to those that work their asses off in school and do community service and care about getting a good education. ‘Morality! Integrity!’”

Salenger projects her thoughts on the scandal to say that when these children who are getting into college off of money and not work, dedication, and intelligence are accepted, the spot for a different student who worked to be there is taken away and given to someone out of bribery and cheating.

The mastermind behind all of these cases of racketeering and fraud is Rick Signer, the main owner of the for-profit Edge College & Career Network and CEO of nonprofit Key Worldwide Foundation. He pleaded guilty on March 12, 2019. “I am responsible,” says Rick, saying “I put all the people in place.”

He and his company were the people who helped “wealthy students score better on the ACTs and SATs by helping them cheat on tests,” states CNN. CNN also states that the “Singer and the coaches knew that the student was not a competitive player, and that his or her athletic profile was fake.” He was convicted of four allegations and pleaded guilty to all, as well as “Many more.” The Key Worldwide Foundation website has been closed down, and no longer accessible. On the Edge College & Career Network’s about page, they claim that their “Alumni have a proud history of giving back to R-MC so that new students of all financial backgrounds can afford the Randolph-Macon experience.”

Children fight to get into the schools of their dreams, showing their intelligence, athleticism, capability, and heart on the way, but even if they are an athlete, disabled, or a scholar, money and corruption can take their place. Almost 50 parents were charged in the scandals, meaning that a definite 25+ students got into colleges unfairly and illegally, taking that many spots that could have gone to other students and scholars.

Stanford is one of those colleges. It is a Division 1 school Stanford that has a limited number of spots for the best students, but the Zhao family found a way to secure a spot for their child, only costing a total of $6.5 million to do so. That was not the only scandal in which parents paid giant amounts of money for their children to get into elite-level colleges.

Another family paid Mr .Singer $1.2 million to assist with their daughters application to Yale. This is not exactly a legal and ethically responsible way of getting your children into school, but the millions of dollars paid to Mr. Singer and others said otherwise to them.

The NCAA and the admissions scandal

The scandal stems throughout college admissions into the NCAA. Parents of athletes have photoshopped their children into pictures, depicting them as high-level athletes and making it seem like they have more experience than they do in reality. This may make it so that not only some students are getting accepted into colleges off of perjury, but also make it so that some student-athletes have their spots on sports teams taken.

A Los Angeles Times article shows how it affects the NCAA, forcing “California lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a bill aimed at preventing the kind of fraud perpetrated in this year’s college admissions cheating scandal, giving initial approval to tougher rules on special admissions to state universities.” The bill is directed toward making the process of college sports fair and legal, as during the scandal, students who didn’t even play the sport, got onto NCAA teams for their “talent.”

“‘We heard that some individuals in California were essentially bribing some public university officials to have their kids be a special admit on athletic teams and did not even play the sport,’ said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), who introduced the bill, during the floor debate Wednesday.”

According to The Intelligencer, “College Admission Scam Involved Photoshopping Rich Kids Heads Onto Athletes Body’s”. According to them, “In other instances, Cooperating Witness-1 and his associates simply found photos of athletes on the Internet and either used those photos or used software such as Photoshop to insert applicants’ faces onto the bodies of legitimate athletes.”

How the scandal affects students with special needs?

Parents are not only photoshopping their children’s faces onto athletes or paying massive amounts of money to get their children into elite schools, but they are even faking learning disabilities to get extra time on standard college admissions tests. Children with disabilities are put at a disadvantage and need the extra time on tests, and the taking of that ability by parents giving their children a way to get extra time on the tests when they do not need it.

Kathryn Gray says in a Washington Post article, “Some parents seek a private specialist in order to get a diagnosis that will allow their child to receive accommodations, even if that child has been successful in school up to that point. And there are a lot of individuals who will look at kids’ profiles and give them a diagnosis of a learning difference or discrepancy that falls outside ADA guidelines.”

Not only does this hurt children with disabilities around America, but also the parents own children, sending a message to them that they’re not good enough on their own merit. This also makes it so that it is harder for disabled students to actually get extra time on tests, as security will be increased, making it a harder process to take tests, and even be believed that they are in need of the extra time.

“‘One thing that really concerns me,” Angus Johnston, a student-activism advocate, historian, and CUNY professor, told Vanity Fair, “[is] that what is going to potentially happen as a result of this scandal is a backlash against accommodations for students with disabilities.’” The thought is shared by many others, an unfair competitive advantage that preys on the weak, and abuses the little power that they have to add onto their own power. The parents created “special-needs loopholes for their children, all so that their standardized tests could be proctored under unusual circumstances—allowing co-conspirators to reportedly change their incorrect answers, or take the tests for them.”

Mr. Caplan, a lawyer in Greenwich, bribed his psychologist 4,000 to 5,000 dollars to write on Mr. Caplan’s daughters report saying that she has disabilities and required special requirements. The psychologist then proceeded to assure Mr. Caplan that many other parents have done this before for their children, states The New York Times. Mr. Signer, a friend of Mr. Caplan said that “most of these kids don’t even have issues,’” but the wealthy parents figured out that if they put down on their exam that the children had disabilities, “‘they get extended time, they can do better on the test,’” adds Mr. Singer. Students requested special needs, such as Enlarged text, braille, and extended time.

The money and bribery involved in the scandal

The thought that these scandals are possibly limiting the opportunities of children working their way to college is a scary thought. Millions of children are fighting for a chance to get into college, and they won’t get it with corruption ruling the school boards and admissions.

“To get wealthy, high-status people to take on the risk of exposure and get in the game, you had to pay exorbitant amounts. They had the privilege to charge high prices,” states Jesse Singal. “Dozens of high-powered executives also allegedly took part in the scheme, paying up to $6 million to assure their children’s acceptance to competitive universities like Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and the University of Southern California.”

In that same article, “The most staggering thing about the Varsity Blues scandal is the raw amount of cash exchanged merely for getting a kid into school — $200,000 for getting into USC through the crew team; $50,000 to take a test; $1.2 million for the Yale soccer team.”

Paul O’Neill, a former soldier in Vietnam, had similar things to say about the problem: “The world runs on money and power, if you have those things, you can go anywhere, be anyone that you want to be.”He said, “I know that it is not fair and that people are working toward fixing it, but that’s how its been since the beginning of time, and I do not believe that it will ever be fixed”.

Throughout the scandal, the money trade between parents and officials was non-stop, with certain families like the Zhao family, paying up to $6.5 million just for their child to be accepted into Stanford. The Stanford Daily writes, “The billionaire Chinese family of former Stanford sophomore Yusi Zhao paid $6.5 million — the largest known sum in the college admissions scandal uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues — to secure her admission to Stanford.” With the second highest amount of cash being exchanged within the scandal being $1.2 million, it’s obvious that something must be done in response to bribery in college admissions being so easy to come by.

Adding on, there are more than 40 different parents being accused for helping their children into college. All of the parents are in relatively high positions in their jobs at work. Some parents were casino owners, as others were clothing company owners. All had high income status and large reputations in their communities according to The Washington Post. Seeing as that there are so many scandals  in such a short time, making a large scandal to time ratio, it may appear that the college system was easy to manipulate, and bribe, giving bad reputations to good schools.

The bribery comes to show that the people working at colleges don’t get paid enough, or are not trustworthy, but either way, both options are not great. And colleges make lots of money from all the students going there, so all the money should not go to profits. Instead,  money should go to gaining the trust of employees or teachers.

“Getting into schools off of money and power is not a fair way to get into schools, that gives people in lower levels of power and money a much lower chance to get into college. Everybody deserves a chance to have a life that they want, the fact that people can get accepted into colleges without fighting for it and deserving it, diminishes that right for people to get into college no matter who they are,” states Walter Van Dorn, a lawyer who has strong views on these troubling matters. The issues are hard to correct and are even harder to isolate.

Kevin Kairouz was asked what his opinions were on this case, and he didn’t really think much of them saying that they were “blown out of proportion”. He shared his concerns about the issue saying that “honesty is always key to life,” the issue was that these people “Were not honest with their admissions.” This can clearly cause problems in the long run adds Kevin. “This matter doesn’t matter to me that much but I  do care about what people say about themselves.” This is very important to oneself, kevin finishes.

Who was convicted and what for?  

The University of South Carolina has had its experience with the scandals. Olivia Jade Giannulli, a large scale YouTuber, decided not to come back into the university. Olivia’s parents were charged with the case that they bribed the university’s athletic coaches to get Olivia into the Rowing crew. Olivia’s older sister was admitted into the college the same way. She is still enrolled in USC with her sister.

At Stanford, an anonymous female student was accepted into the college through the College Admissions Scandal. She apparently said on her application that she had sailing records, but were fake. Her family also gave a $500,000 donation to the sailing program in the University. The coach, John Vandemoer, was also fired after pleading guilty.

How people feel about the scandal

Ethel Germack is a teacher at PS 217, and she shared her views on these scandals. She claimed that “If you have that much to spend getting yourself into a college, you are better off not going,” adding that you don’t need college if you have so much money. Her attitude toward this matter was very conflicting, because as a teacher, she would be very disappointed with her own students. This matter “Puts issues in everyone’s hands” where everyone has something new to worry about. Her solution was easy but simple, make more interviews to understand people better and weigh them up. Claiming that these problems are hard ones to correct, because people will not turn themselves in.

Ruby Germack is a student in the NYC iSchool and has shared her opinions on these scandals. With these matters at hand, Ruby does not worry about these scandals but offered some quick solutions to these matters at hand, saying, “The college system was built well off of trust and since that has been broken new ways will need to be put into action.” Also adding that these scandals “Ruin the college communities, and bring down reputations.”

Ms. Beck and Ms. McCorkle, the college counselor of the iSchool and her assistant, were interviewed and asked about what they thought of the scandalThey were asked questions about their thoughts on the problem and if they had any opinions to share about these problems. Ms. Beck claimed that these issues are “hard to fix,” because “Money is the source of power,” and these offers from rich parents can lead to bad bribery. They were informed that some students got into schools with the help of their parents, but the parents never told their children that they were helped in. They were asked what should happen to the student. Ms. Beck said that it was a case of “morals” and that it is a very complicated case. Ms. McCorkle claimed that the student “Should be expelled and informed in advance.”  Ms. McCrockle also said,

Marija Willen, a lawyer who works as a lawyer in S&P Global, has expressed some of her opinions on this issue. She has conflicting opinions on the issue of the student not knowing that they were helped into the school. She has suggested multiple different solutions but came to the conclusion that “there is no right answer, but a best answer.” She said that she was very “Disappointed with these parents,” and as parent wouldn’t consider doing something like that. “These scandals are bad for everyone and should be cleared up quickly.”

Deborah Meier, a former teacher and founder of the Central Park East school, claimed that “These briberies are very bad and irresponsible, and make a big dent in the college system.” Adding that the schools may have to change the way they test the students and their own staff, “Putting stress on everyone.” She is very disappointed about the coaches who accepted the bribes. These scandals put stress on everyone, because now “everyone has to be on their best behavior,” and focus on school.

A common theme in those that were interviewed is that they all saw eye-to-eye on the way that money and power were abused in this situation, and how it was a clear act of immorality.

Not the first

This admissions scandal is hardly the first of its kind. According to Business Insider, it is only a continuation of the past. In the 2014-2019 classes at Harvard, the university was accused of favoring children of alumni over all competition in the class.

Or in Louisiana, where a small school was found to be making “In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity.”. The past of College Admissions isn’t light and day, and if people thought that they could solve the problem then, how can others be sure that they can solve it today?

The schools systems have began to become more careless as time goes on. Employees and workers began to feel that since they are in such a good school, or a high position, that they can sit back and relax, but the students should not be the only people working hard in college. Colleges are supposed to be challenging and provide an education to anyone deserving, but what happens when they don’t? This scandal brought out that side of colleges.

Overview of the scandal

The entire scandal started off with a tip to the FBI by a man from Los Angeles, California. Then Rudy Meredeith, the Yale Women’s Soccer Coach, was suspectedly helping Morrie Tobin’s daughter into Yale in exchange for $450,000. Meredith then accepted $2,000 from Tobin in a hotel room. Tobin and Meredith both pleaded guilty to Wire Fraud a week later.

Nine coaches and 33 parents were charged for bribery in the cases. Most of these parents are prominent, wealthy people in law, finance, fashion, and food industries. The prosecutors claimed that the parents paid the admission consultants to boost their children’s chances of getting into a certain college. They were also bribed to make their children look like star athletes. Parents spent up to an estimated 6.5 million dollars to secure their children a spot into colleges.

A main contributor to this issue was Rick Singer, Rudy and Singer conspired to accept the bribe. Singer, the head of Edge College & Career Network, was able to create a backdoor into the college admissions. They had access to people in the colleges and were able to contact multiple different coaches and head admission conductors.

With these powers, and money in his business, Singer was able to use his access to money as a way to bribe these coaches into accepting different select students into the issues. The coaches later either resigned or were fired after they came out as guilty to their bosses.

USC former assistant coach was one of those who were involved in the scandal. USC’s water polo coach, Jovan Vavic. He was connected to the schemes. Gordan Ernst, the former tennis coach for Georgetown, was arrested for designating 12 students as recruits. He made 2.7 million dollars between 2012 and 2018 in associating to the schemes. William Ferguson the former volleyball coach for Wake Forest. He was accused of accepting $100,000 from Singer 2017. Jorge Salcedo, the U.C.L.A men’s soccer coach, was reportedly accused of accepting $200,000 in bribes to accept two students into UCLA. Ali Khosroshahin and Laura Janke, the former U.S.C. women’s soccer coaches, Singer had contributed $350,000 to a private soccer club owned by the coaches, in return the club would recommend four different students. Rudy Meredith, the former Yale women’s soccer coach, she was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars to administer the acceptance of non-soccer playing students. John Vandemoer, the Stanford sailing coach, was accused of taking financial contributions in exchange to accept 2 students into his program. Michael Center, the Texas men’s tennis coach, accepted $100,000 from Singer in 2015, in exchange he recruited a non-tennis playing student.

The issue was finally apprehended but a little late in that matter, many students, dozens, were accepted into schools through bribery. The matter still lies with the law, there was bribery, and fraud in many of these issues. Most of the parents involved in the issue were granted bail, and had to give items to the bank to offer justice.

The whole issue of this happening has had everyone on their toes trying to understand what was happening, most of the trials were public and the public were able to see what was happening and where these cases were going. The outcome these schemes was a questioning of morals, and everyone testing everyone. Some people in the scandals were not expected to be apart of these schemes.

Should these students be expelled, and what’s the consequence for them?

Marija Willen says that it’s hard to decide. Basing her reasoning more off of morals to decide what is right and wrong. She said, “There is not right or wrong answer here, only the best,” because the situation is complicated and is hard to decide what should happen.

Others like Paul Willen have stated that there was a clear punishment for fraud or bribery, where you break high level rules like that. The clear punishment was that the student should be “expelled,” if they were helped in with money, whether they know that they were helped in or not, that’s besides the point. The problem is that the parent brought this upon their children, that was the problem. “They decided to this, and there will always be a punishment.”

The colleges that were caught up in these problems would consider disciplining the students were related to the scandals, says The New York Times. Colleges like the University of California in Los Angeles is saying that they will be warning the students with revocation of their Admission to the college. Other colleges like the University of Southern California is rejecting any students who were connected to the briberies adds the NYT. Colleges that accepted coaches’ bribes are placing them on leave or firing them. University of Texas successfully fired their tennis coach.

Being that there were so many families and therefore children involved, The Intelligencer helps exhibit the knowledge of each of the children whose families were involved. According to them, there were 7 families where their kids probably knew, 12 families where the children’s knowledge was unclear, and 6 families where their children probably didn’t know. So, with that knowledge, what should happen to the children?

Reports and articles across the internet have already been made about children being expelled due to their involvement in the scandal. According to Vogue, 2 athletes have already been expelled from Yale and Stanford. One of the students whose “parents paid a whopping $1.2 million to Singer in the spring and summer of 2018.”

In another article by the Intelligencer, “USC found six students who had applied this year who were associated with the college-admissions scheme. These students will be rejected, the New York Times report. Students already enrolled are not allowed to register for next semester’s classes as investigators work to determine just how much they were involved in the deception.”

According to Bloomberg Opinion, “‘most of the kids’ didn’t know that their scores were being enhanced after they left the testing center.” For one of these students “the tapes suggest that a student admitted to the University of Southern California had no idea he had been classified as a varsity track and field athlete until he showed up as a freshman and started getting emails about practices and team events. Even then, the tapes hint, his parents tried hard to avoid telling him that he’d been admitted by fraud.”

Many of the kids most likely were not charged, like some of their parents. “More likely, the U.S. attorney’s office didn’t charge the students because the crimes took place before the applicants were 18.”

What happens to the students is up to the schools. Most people like Jon Reider, a former admissions Officer for Stanford, says, “Whether they are facing consequences will depend on how much the students knew and what kind of message the schools want to send.” Reider doesn’t think that the students will face disciplinary action unless there is an example of fraud or evidence showing it. Times news. The spokesperson for USC is saying that they are going to conduct a case-by-case investigation on students that are suspectedly involved in the schemes to get into college.

How we can take action and solve the problem?

This isn’t something that we can just ignore and watch as it happens again, history repeats itself, so there must be a way to solve and fix it, and many people agree.

Education Dive notes 3 steps that all colleges should take in response to the admissions scandals. Dan Prywes says, “’Universities need to fortify their admissions processes against fraud and abuse and they need to start thinking like a bank, where every stage of the payment process is monitored and there are internal controls.’” It is vital that the scandals don’t repeat, and that everyone gets a chance at college, not because of their money and power, which is why people like “Prywes and other higher ed crisis-management and admissions experts advise colleges across the board to examine and lock down the paths into their institutions while reinforcing to prospective students from all backgrounds that their applications will get a fair review.”

Other sources like Vox and The Washington Post say that to solve the problem, you have to adapt to it, and do so by auctioning off spare seats, the highest bidders getting them. “This way, colleges say they need more revenue; this supplies it. Parents want their kids to go to the ‘best’ school; some get their wish. Most important, the process is an open one with publicized rules that are in stark contrast to today’s system, which encourages deceit, unfairness and illegality.”

There are so many solutions to this problem that people can take: the seats can be auctioned off to the highest bidders, creating less illegality by doing so, the process can be heavily monitored “like a bank”, and so much more. But to really solve this problem, the power must be put into the hands of the people who need it to be solved: the parents, and the students fighting their way up to get into the college of their dreams. These people know the struggle and know the importance of solving it. Or maybe, according to Time, making it so that universities put less emphasis on the Advanced Placement tests, and make it less test-based to get into schools.

It is time to fix College Admissions, and its vital to do so, for the future of our children and theirs.