What is being claimed to be the largest college admissions scandal in recent American history is unfolding in that country now, with many taken aback by the sheer scale and audacity of the crimes, as well as the list of high-profile parents who have been accused.
Being investigated by the Justice Department, the bribery-for-admissions scam engulfed some of the most prestigious American universities, including Stanford, Yale, and Georgetown among others.
Explained: The US bribery-for-admissions scandal
The principal accused, William Singer, who ostensibly owned a college consultancy service, ran a racket which guaranteed his clients admissions into elite schools, in exchange for hefty payments. The clients, who availed Signer’s services for their children, were completely aware of the criminal nature of the scheme.
The Justice Department categorized the racket into three parts: arranging a third party to take the SAT and ACT standardized tests in place of actual students, falsely designating college applicants as potential recruits for their athletic teams, and money laundering using charitable accounts.
In the first part, Singer would use compromised invigilators to guarantee his clients the required test scores, who took the competitive exams at centres which he controlled. This would also involve the students faking a learning disability in order to get extended time for completing the test, sometimes spanning consecutive days, in which time the invigilators would guide them to the correct answers. This ‘service’ was charged anywhere between US $15,000-$75,000.
The second part, which has caused the greatest outrage, is the bribing of coaches at top universities in charge of non-mainstream sports such as volleyball, soccer, water polo, and tennis. Signer would influence these coaches into granting admissions on seats otherwise reserved for genuinely elite sportspersons. Singer would also create fake CVs of his clients, showcasing them as accomplished sportspersons, all with the knowledge of these varsity coaches. In these transactions, a whopping over $25 million are alleged to have changed hands between 2011 and 2019.
Finally, the Justice Department has also charged the alleged culprits with money laundering, using a fake charity to siphon the funds collected from parents.
Reactions to the US admissions scam
Owing to its extent, the scam has drawn sharp reactions from several quarters, with aggrieved parents calling upon colleges to usher transparency in the admissions process. On their part, the colleges have swung into a disciplinary mode, with Stanford and USC firing their coaches, and UCLA and the University of Texas sending their accused faculty members on leave pending investigation.
Apart from the alleged organisers of the racket, the investigators have also charged 33 parents, all high-profile figures, including Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman and Full House actress Lori Loughlin. The list also includes fashion designers, jewellers, casino owners, top lawyers, and business leaders.
Significance of the US college admission scandal
Although the scam has highlighted the cracks in the admissions system, which Signer and the powerful set of parents were able to exploit, the investigation does not target the practice of giving mega donations to colleges for influencing admissions, neither does it go after the ‘legacy policy’ at many colleges, under which children of alumni are preferred.