March 13, 2019
A few seasons back on the TV show "Shameless," actor William H. Macy's character's son took SATs for other students to help them get into elite colleges. But now it's another family member swept up in a similar scandal. Macy's real-life wife, actress Felicity Huffman, along with actress Lori Loughlin, were among the 50 people who were indicted today on charges of fraud in connection with vast conspiracy to help get wealthy kids into some of the country's top schools, through tampering with SAT testing, and faking learning disabilities and athletic prowess. William Rick Singer, the ringleader behind the scam, said he helped 761 families with these "side door" admissions.
But honestly, you'd have to be a really good actor to look surprised that the wealthiest parents have been finding ways to buy their kids' way into elite colleges. The cards are already stacked against your average student. Legacy students—who had one or both parents as alumni—make up 14 percent of each year's freshman class at Harvard. If your parents attended, you're five times more likely to get in there, and at other colleges that offer legacies a leg up. (And most legacy students aren't exactly pulled from the working class.) Is there any wonder why three of the Trump children matriculated at the University of Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump not only graduated but donated more than $1 million?
And then there's the fact that numerous wealthy families out-and-out donate large sums to help sweeten the pot for taking a not-so-stellar student on. Jared Kushner's father paid $2.5 million to help get him into Harvard, while numerous colleges, including Stanford and Duke, estimate that between three and five percent of each year's class is made up of wealthy students who are given priority because of the size of their parents' bank accounts—even if their parents have no other connection to the school.
That doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of this sort of practice—and this ongoing investigation. What leads a parent to become that hellbent on a certain college for their kids that they're willing to game the system and bribe and cheat their child's way to a certain college? What leads a parent to think that's A-OK to do that, and potentially take a spot away from a more deserving student?
On top of that, some of the parents may have had their kids in on it, as some of the cases involved having them pose for pics playing sports they didn't play in real life. Other kids may have been in the dark—but imagine finding out that your parents were so unconvinced of your abilities that they have someone going in behind you, acing your SATs for you. And worse yet, some of these kids have expressed a desire to go to college simply for parties and events, and they are taking the place of someone more qualified who would have put that education to a far better use.
But let's be honest. The playing field isn't level anywhere. Even in my average suburban neighborhood, some parents are able to splurge on private SAT tutoring and professional essay coaches—while others go into the college process like I did, with a $20 workbook and the dream of a top-notch education.
Maybe this scandal will be the impetus we need to reexamine how we do this crazy college thing (and not a moment too soon—I have a high school student now). I'm sure there are plenty of families out there doing exactly that right now.