By Mary O’KEEFE
In the wake of the announcement by the Dept. of Justice that 50 people are being charged in connection with a nationwide college admission scam, the conversation of how the system works for the haves and have-nots has become a common topic.
On Tuesday, the DOJ held a press conference that laid out the story of how some wealthy parents used money to get their kids into college, and how representatives of schools took those “bribes” to open the door to colleges and universities not to students who worked hard to get there but to those who had the money to buy an acceptance letter.
Anyone who has held their family’s collective breath as the mail was delivered between January and March, waiting for that all-important acceptance or disappointing rejection letter from their child’s college choice, knows how stressful that time can be. Parents know how hard their child worked to move on to the college of their choice. The long rehearsals or practices, hours of community service and the seemingly never-ending homework were supposed to add up to their moving on to higher education. Students have been told that moving on to college, either community college or a four-year college or university, is possible if they work hard enough. Imagine how that message is now being received when students hear of this scam.
“All of the students are rightfully upset about this scandal. It’s so frustrating, especially for seniors, to see people trying to cheat their way to success. All of us have been working extremely hard over the last four years, trying to earn our way into our dream schools. Countless hours of studying, talking to teachers, and just plain hard work has been invested into our education, not money,” said Katie Blood, CVHS senior class president.
The scam, according to the DOJ, “involved a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students to elite universities as purported athletic recruits.” Arrests in multiple states by federal agents were made with suspects charged in federal court in Boston. Athlete coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown, among others, were implicated as well as parents and exam administrators, according to the DOJ.
At the center of the investigation is a man named William “Rick” Singer, 58, of Newport Beach. He allegedly conspired with parents, coaches and others using bribery and “other forms of fraud” to get students into colleges and universities.
Singer’s business, The Key Worldwide, states on its website, “We partner with your son or daughter to identify their strengths, unlock their potential, choose the right college, position themselves for admission, and outline a course of study and extracurricular experiences to lead to a life of success.”
The scam allegedly included bribing SAT and ACT exam proctors to allow someone else to take the college exams in place of the students, or to correct the exams so the students received a higher score. Singer was also alleged to have bribed coaches and athletic directors at universities to offer acceptance as recruited athletes.
At times, reportedly, Singer even superimposed a student’s face onto an athlete’s body. He is charged for those conspiracies as well as “using the façade of Singer’s charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribes.”
On Tuesday there were about 13 defendants taken into custody in Los Angeles including actress Felicity Huffman. Most made their initial court appearance on Tuesday afternoon. More were taken into custody in other areas including Boston.
“I am glad the FBI took strong action. We work so hard every minute of every day at CV – all of us – to make sure our students are prepared for the rigors of college, to gain admission and to perform well on high stakes tests. A scheme that undermines that work, that faked test scores and stole college admission from deserving students, passing it instead to the grasping privileged and entitled … this is beyond shameful. This angers me. I applaud the FBI for their work, and consider them true partners in the effort to level the playing field and increase college access for hard-working students. I thank the FBI for their strong action and dedication,” said Linda Junge, principal of CVHS.
What will happen to the students who were admitted through this scam is reportedly up to each of the specific institutions.
“We all understand the stress that taking the SAT and applying for college brings, but there is a moral way and a wrong way to work through this hard time. I honestly feel bad for the students who have reached their dream schools because of their parents’ bribery. If they weren’t academically competitive [enough] to get into the school, they will have a very hard time succeeding there,” Blood said. “Money will only get you so far, and eventually you’ll need to rely on your own talents and attributes.”
A sampling of students interviewed for this article showed many who were upset but few surprised at this scam.
“This scandal goes beyond just this company. All through high school students cheat to get a better grade, to have a better GPA and to finally get into college,” Blood said. “Cheating in the middle of the process is just as bad as cheating at the end. When others sneak their way to the top to get there, they disqualify others who have been working insanely hard the right way.”