‘Equal access to college is a myth in America’: VCU community responds to bribery in Ivy League admissions

The Lilian Goldman Law Library at Yale University. Yale was among the schools implicated in the scandal. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hannah EasonContributing Writer


Last week, the FBI charged dozens of wealthy parents in connection with a sting operation that found they bribed their children’s ways into college. VCU students said they were frustrated about the revelation.

The FBI found evidence that celebrities Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky in “Full House,” and Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” were among elite parents who paid to fraudulently designate their children as athletes and improve their standardized test scores. The higher education community has been questioning the integrity of the admissions process since the story broke.

Tomikia LeGrande, vice provost of VCU’s Division of Strategic Enrollment Management, said many factors determine undergraduate admission, one of which is standardized test scores. VCU applications accept official test scores from an ACT or SAT testing agency, or from an official high school transcript.

“VCU has had infrequent situations in which admission to a student was revoked due to providing false or misleading information,” LeGrande said.

Sociology professor Mark Plume said “behaviors follow our beliefs,” causing wealthy, successful parents to break the law in order to get their children into elite schools.

“We believe, in America, a really good college is your foot in the door to social stability and social success,” Plume said. “This idea of equal access to college is a myth in America.”

Political science professor John Aughenbaugh, who is a first-generation college student, said the results of the investigation are “offensive” and challenge the idea that admissions are based on merit.

“If a seat at a prestigious university can be bought,” Aughenbaugh said, “then it implies that any way you define merit is applicable.”

Aughenbaugh said many universities are becoming businesses, which creates an environment focused on profitization rather than education. Universities are expensive to facilitate, and degrees in higher education are becoming increasingly more vital to Americans in the workforce, he said.

Junior Spencer Vincent, a first-generation college student, said admission bribery takes educational opportunities from deserving applicants.

“If I’m working hard through four years of high school, and I can’t get in because another student has more money than me,” Vincent said. “It’s not right.”

Gender, sexuality and women’s studies major Alexa Santisteban said the findings of the FBI bust didn’t surprise her.

“Obviously, if you’re rich, you’re just going to keep advancing,” Santisteban said. “I can only imagine the spots that were taken by people who actually deserve to go to the school.”

The junior suggested lowering tuition costs for public universities to reduce the financial burden of education.

Theater performance major Madison Hatfield said the financial advantage of the wealthy gives them an “upper hand” over the average applicant.  

“Money is power,” Hatfield said.

According to the District of Massachusetts’ Department of Justice press release, William “Rick” Singer, the owner and operator the Edge College & Career Network LLC or “The Key,” is accused of using bribery and fraud to guarantee the admission of students.

“Singer’s clients paid him between $15,000 and $75,000 per test. In many instances, the students taking the exams were unaware that their parents had arranged for the cheating,” the press release said.

The bribery extended to several levels of the college application process. The conspiracy involved paying SAT and ACT exam administrators to allow a test taker to secretly take the place of a student or to correct the students’ answers after the exam was complete. Singer is accused of bribing university athletic coaches to admit students as recruited athletes, as well as accepting the funding for the bribes through Key Worldwide Foundation, a non-profit purported charity.

Colleges and universities currently involved in the scandal are Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, Wake Forest University, University of Texas and others.

Thirty-three parents, 13 coaches, and two standardized test administrators have been charged for their involvement in Singer’s business.

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