The Corner

Education

How to Buy Your Way into the Ivies

Old Campus at Yale University (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

The alleged involvement of actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin is what really makes this story pop, but lurking in the details of the scheme is something pretty striking about college admissions: At many schools, apparently an athletic coach can more or less just point at an applicant and say “He gets in,” so long as the application at least contains a claim that the kid plays sports.

Nearly 50 people have been charged for a racket in which parents would pay large sums of money to get their kids admitted to schools including Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and UCLA — but not as large as the sums required to achieve this through normal donations. One imagines that to get any individual admitted would require a fairly substantial conspiracy, given that applications are normally reviewed by several people each in an effort to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.

Or not. Part of the alleged scam was having someone at a testing center facilitate cheating on college-entrace exams; that’s a method by which Huffman allegedly “helped” her kid, and for logistical reasons it requires students to request extra test-taking time from the College Board (including, in some cases, “by having the children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain the medical documentation”). But another, as in the allegation against Loughlin, was to bribe coaches to label kids as recruited athletes.

As ABC reports:

The documents say actress Lori Loughlin — best known for her role as Aunt Becky on the ABC sitcom “Full House” — and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”

I’m not a fan of athletics-based college admissions — or of “VIP” status designated by other administrators, which apparently was exploited as well — but if we’re going to have them, schools should tighten up the process. They could have more individuals certify that a student is qualified for a special status, which would require a bigger and thus more fragile conspiracy to keep something like this going; have admissions offices fact-check recruited athletes’ claimed accomplishments; and check in later to make sure that admitted athletes actually play when they get to campus.

You can read all the documents in full here, with this complaint being a good overview of the alleged conspiracy in general. Some cases allegedly involved doctored photos in which applicants’ faces were superimposed on real athletes’ bodies, which is a nice touch.

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