The Corner

Education

The Magic Talisman of a Degree from One of the Best Schools

Cast member Lori Loughlin poses at the premiere for Netflix’s Fuller House at The Grove in Los Angeles, Calif. February 16, 2016. (Mario Anzuoni/REUTERS)

In response to How to Buy Your Way into the Ivies

Robert,

The Felicity Huffman/Lori Loughlin college-bribery scandal is one of those stories that look weird when you see the first headline, stranger when you read the details, and utterly otherworldly when you think about it.

For example, Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli posted a video in which she said she was only interested in attending college for the parties: “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all,” she said. “But I do want the experience of like game days, partying . . . I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

Giannulli is one of those child-of-a-celebrity “social-media influencers” whom we’ve never heard of but who is apparently popular with some younger online social-media demographic.

How pervasive is the mentality that everyone needs to go to college? Apparently so pervasive that even celebrity parents believe their “social-media influencer” children need four years at a good school. “Look, honey, you’ll never be the next Kim Kardashian without at least an undergrad degree, and maybe grad school.”

These kids already had the giant advantage of wealthy parents! Their parents were wealthy and/or famous or both! Did these parents believe their children wouldn’t achieve their dreams if they had gone to one of the top 50 or 100 schools in U.S. News & World Report rankings instead of one in the top 25? Was the option of applying to a lesser school really that unbearable to these families?

These children apparently could not have gotten into these schools on their own merits. Do these schools have such a reputation for “if you’re in, you’re passing” that these wealthy parents felt confident that their kids would get acceptable grades, once enrolled? Is there some sort of special “parents are wealthy” grade curve or degree program with a lighter workload and easier requirements?

Are degrees from Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, UCLA, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas, and Wake Forest so worthwhile that it was worth engaging in this elaborate illegal scheme? What does that say about the nation’s employers? What does that say about the value of lesser-known colleges and universities?

In recent years, it’s become somewhat more fashionable to say “college isn’t for everyone,” although I notice you don’t often hear it followed by, “and that’s why I don’t want my children to go to college.” I suspect the more accurate sentiment is, “college isn’t for everyone; someone else’s kids shouldn’t bother applying, but I still think of it as the entry ticket to white-collar work, so I’m making sure my kid gets in, no matter what.”

Today the FBI special agent in charge denounced a “culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students.” This is the sort of thing that ought to make everyone reevaluate whether they put too much faith in a degree from a top school . . . but it probably won’t. The reputation of the ivory tower has endured a lot.

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