The Wildly Unsurprising College Admissions Scandal

Ah, it’s that college acceptance/rejection time of year, and no better time to really look at the admissions scandal that “rocked” the nation.

For starters, I don’t know why it has rocked anything, or how a single person who has had a child go through this process, or has gone through it themselves, or is mostly alive can be even the slightest bit surprised. The rich and famous cheat at college admissions? [Clutches pearls!] Umm, duh.

Even though we all knew this on some level, it does feel somewhat satisfying to have a few famous faces and some low life coaches to march out as the underlying cause of all that is wrong in the world. Oh, if it were that easy. I’m here to tell you that is sadly oversimplifying things and incredibly far from the truth about what is rotten in the state of college admissions.

The real villains in the college admissions racket are the college and universities. Before I get to them there is another equally as complicit force that needs to shoulder a good portion of this blame, and that, my friends, is the American people.

Somewhere along the way in our great American experiment, we decided that the rich and famous get a different set of rules. It’s so incredibly accepted that we don’t even notice it anymore. We have made becoming rich and/or famous an achievement that somehow qualifies as intelligence, experience, and a license to do pretty much whatever they want.

Look at our president. Love him or hate him, he’s a perfect example of American lust for celebrity. He’s spent his career operating with a completely different set of rules than the rest of us and lots of people applaud that…and think he earned that right. And, hey…let’s not make this partisan. Lots of people think Oprah would make a great president too. Why? Well, she’s rich and famous, of course. Doesn’t that mean she’s qualified?

Sadly, no longer do we think experience in the field of governing and/or a degree in law, justice, or political science matters. Nope. We love our charismatic “it” factor snake oil salespeople, in all forms, on all sides of the great political divide.

When it comes to college admissions we know that college and universities lust after celebrities, elected representatives, the wealthy and their kids, same as the rest of us. Their entrance isn’t the same as our kids. It never has been, and maybe that’s because there is a collective sense of thinking they somehow deserve special treatment. Maybe that is what the American dream is about now…getting so rich or famous or wielding enough political power that you, too, can cut, cheat, and buy your way into whatever you want.

Yes, we are all complicit in this nightmare of letting the rich and famous and politically connected skip the line, and we need to own that. But you can’t look at this scandal and not point your finger squarely on the elite colleges and universities who allow this to happen.

I have been amused by their reactions. “Ye gads! We had no idea!” Pul-ease. No one should believe their woefully Blanche DuBois, deer-in-the-headlights, “How could this happen” phony baloney. Yes, I just said phony baloney. They have it coming.

Come on. You think the trouble was those crooked coaches taking bribes to get unqualified students admitted? [Shaking my head.] Look, these are the same academic, ACADEMIC, institutions that regularly make deals with coaches about players on all athletic teams to admit less qualified students.

Although they are institutions of higher education, they have somehow convinced all of us that having good sports teams is part of that. What’s so crazy is that, once again, the American people are more than okay with this. They love it. Question it and you’ll have your ass handed to you as being unreasonable. Yes, it is apparently unreasonable to have academic institutions maintain their standards of admission for their athletes. “How dare you!”

And in defense of the schools, they are right, to some extent, about sports being as important, or more important, than academic achievement. Let’s be real, no one is putting those stupid (sorry, not sorry) university flags on their cars for academic reasons. Ha! They put them for football or basketball season.

Okay, fine. Field those two teams with the best athletes, academics be damned. But the elite schools aren’t just lowering academic standards for their big ticket, money-maker, ESPN, prime-time, TV athletes. Nope. They are doing it for fencing and crew and skiing, and anything, really, involving a ball. As a top five private school very proudly talks about in their information sessions, they field the most collegiate sporting teams. Well, shucks, even if some athletes have the entrance goods, that’s still a lot of kids getting into a highly competitive academic institution that take the place of a more academically qualified student.

I think what the elite/competitive colleges and universities involved in this scandal are really saying is not so much that they had no idea this was happening, it’s more, “We only cheat to get in less qualified students legally.” And they do, all the time. Got a cool five million to spare? Are you famous? Make a donation and suddenly the game is different for your kid. It’s all on the up and up. And, despite the sudden outrage from Americans about cheating and buying your way to the front of the line, we’ve literally all always known this was true.

And why would we expect better from colleges and universities? Hell, they whore themselves out to the rich and famous all the time with honorary degrees. They take something semi-sacred in the world of academia, achieved with years of hard work and sacrifice, and, poof, magically award it to a celebrity. It’s almost like they don’t value their own product that, incidentally, they charge the rest of us hundreds of thousands of dollars for. Shameful. But also, accepted.

In America we love a good bad guy. Someone we can point to and blame for our troubles. It is so easy to look to these rich and famous parents and despicable coaches who were caught cheating the system as the reason the college admissions process is tainted, and, by the way, shame on them, but they are merely a symptom.

Until Americans stop idolizing the rich and famous and allowing them to operate under a different set of rules, until we start holding universities accountable for their admissions standards being one size fits all, nothing will really change. Maybe we can start with challenging ourselves to do better and expect a more just system where we all have the same chances, and remember that’s what the great American experiment is really about.


  1. Romi on March 25, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Great summary and I just heard of Social Critic Neil Postman talk about this in a more elaborate way on his book The End of education …
    In Western culture, Postman argues that we serve a number of gods, and not just spiritual ones. Powerful narratives are apparent in our education system, explained through books, repeated on television sets and movie screens. These narratives give meaning to your world and your labours, and in the process they form your personal identity…


  2. Wendy Doak on March 25, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    As always, you are spot on!!

  3. Jennifer Kirkley on March 22, 2019 at 6:33 am

    So true. I wasn’t surprised at all, I was surprised they were finally being charged with a Federal crime!