Scandal and setbacks
What a week in the world of college admissions.
The big story that’s consuming everyone’s attention is the scandal involving privileged parents, corrupt coaches, and the mercenary middleman who connected them. A breakdown of the scheme reveals the opportunities that millions of dollars can (unfortunately sometimes) buy. A startling irony surfaced during the US Attorney’s press conference. He said, “We’re not talking about donating a building… We’re talking about fraud.” The Atlantic tackles this bigger issue: certain ways of using money to buy a college admission are perfectly acceptable. (They even come with tax deductions!) It’s legal (ethical, not so much) for a parent to donate $2.5 million for a building or a foundation at a university to grease the wheels for a child’s admission there; it’s not at all legal for a parent to pay for bribes so that proctors allow cheating on the SAT or ACT.
This is not how it’s supposed to work.
Those who wish to buy inherently unfair opportunities will always exist, even among the not-so-fabulously-wealthy.
Whether it’s a “fixer” who pays college coaches to label kids as athletic recruits, a proctor who overlooks cheating on an SAT, a student who takes the ACT for another student or an athletic program who pays a tutor to write papers and take online courses for athletes - it happens. Corruption can exist at every level and in any field, not just higher education.
I know it’s disheartening. Humans are a flawed bunch.
Set aside that news (Tuesday’s) for a moment, though, because it’s possible that the biggest news this week, news that truly impacts millions of students and parents, happened on Monday. You might not even know this.
Perhaps this (potential) setback didn’t make nearly as much news because it’s more complicated. Perhaps it didn’t make nearly as much news because some Americans support it (maybe not knowing the details?).
The bigger setback for millions of American students this week, from my view, was buried in the details of the President’s proposed budget. While I’m completely in favor of reducing government waste, I’m stunned at some of the programs set to be abolished under this budget:
The new budget would have devastating effects on nearly every family I know:
It would eliminate subsidized student loans for higher education, requiring college students to start paying back their loans while they are in school, rather than waiting until they graduate.
It effectively eliminates GEAR UP, a grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in college. Many of these students would be the first in their family to go to college.
It eliminates Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), which help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of a college or trade school education.
It eliminates Student Support and Enrichment (ESSA Title IV, Part A) grants, which provide funds for states to support school counseling and college access programs.
It reduces the Federal Work Study program by more than $500 million. This program offers low- and middle-income students the opportunity to work to pay towards their tuition, while enrolled in college or trade school.
It eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), which provides debt relief for school counselors, teachers in rural or inner-city districts, college admission professionals, and others who work for nonprofit or government organizations.
It cuts $129 billion from income-driven repayment programs (IDR), which allow borrowers to make student loan payments as a percent of their overall earnings.
We’re trying to OPEN the doors to college for more students —
Not block them OUT.
All of these programs are designed to level the playing field. These are programs that enable students who come from poverty or from middle class families to afford a college education. These programs provide equity, and they provide access. To see them on the cutting block just a day before we see some of the wealthiest families buying their students even more access….well, it’s stunning. For the many working families I assist, it’s insult on top of injury.
So, is there a happy ending?
If you know me, you know that I’ll always find reasons to stay hopeful. Let’s end with those.
First, be glad that this budget isn’t reality (yet). It’s a proposal. Whether you care for the rest of the budget or not, you can contact your senators and representatives and ask that they protect the provisions and programs that help make college affordable and accessible to EVERYONE.
Second, take heart that Operation Varsity Blues was successful. Federal authorities caught onto these illegal, unethical actions, and they broke it up. Those involved will face the consequences of their actions.
Finally, know with confidence that the vast majority of colleges, college coaches, and independent consultants (like me!) are very concerned with doing right by today’s families! We all want your students to find the right school, with the right program, in the right location - at a cost that works for your family. Counselors - from private ones like me, to the ones at your student’s high school, all the way to the ones in the college admissions offices across the country - work very hard to make this a reality for millions of students every year. We abide by strict codes of ethics (HECA, IECA, NACAC), and we don’t charge millions of dollars to do it.
Let’s be completely clear right here.
As a matter of a commitment to the highest ethical standards, I would never accept bribes or offer guarantees to get ANYONE into a program of their choice. I would never write an essay for a student, nor would I tolerate dishonesty of any sort with regard to the SAT or ACT. There is no amount of money (astronomical or even less) for which I would sell my integrity. There is no price for which I will commit a crime or engage in unethical behavior. Not. Going. To. Happen. I'm not a cheater, I don't assist cheaters, and I don’t tolerate cheaters. My students EARN their scores, and they EARN their acceptances: fairly, by working hard and following the rules. As a college admissions counselor, I coach students and their families on what EVERYONE has a right to know. I do what I do BECAUSE there’s so much that families and students need to know! I’m here to provide information and insight. Not to take advantage of parents, students, or colleges.
A college education SHOULD be accessible to everyone who seeks it! That’s why it’s been such a hard week. It feels like the system is rigged to benefit those who can buy into it, and the programs that do help make it accessible are under threat of termination.
But let me tell you this:
Our educational system also rewards those who are best prepared, and that's why I do what I do.
Yes, it takes effort and diligence to do it well and to do it right. I am here to help!
Your student CAN find a place at a great school, no matter your family’s income.
Your student CAN be successful on the SAT or ACT, without having to bribe someone.
It is entirely possible to survive the admissions process, be admitted to a terrific school, get a college degree, and go on to live a wonderful, happy life - with your integrity intact.
I promise: it’s true. I’ve bet my whole career on it.