College Admissions Corruption: What Message Are We Sending to Our Kids? by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead

Headlines Opinion
8 months ago
College Admissions Corruption: What Message Are We Sending to Our Kids?

Privilege. Power. Corruption. On March 12, 2019, the Justice Department “announced dozens of charges related to a massive college admissions bribery scheme, involving big names from Hollywood actresses to Wall Street and Silicon Valley executives” (Huffington Post). Parents, students and educators are, understandably, outraged. 

As a parent myself, and as someone who has spent the last 18 years teaching undergraduate students, I find the actions of all involved despicable and shameful. I keep thinking about my students who worked diligently throughout high school and then screamed with delight when they received their college acceptance letters, knowing what it took to get to that celebratory moment. I think about the creative kids who spent countless hours in the theater or the studio. I think about the athletes – the ACTUAL athletes – who worked as hard on the field as off. I think about the children with ACTUAL disabilities who succeeded despite the obstacles they faced, and I think of their parents, too, who advocated for them, who prepared for IEP meetings, who took their children to countless appointments, all in an attempt to support their kids’ college dreams.

While we all have every right to be angry, we really shouldn’t be surprised. This is not a new story. Sure, the names have changed and perhaps the actions seem especially egregious, but this is not the first time the wealthy and powerful have used their privilege to buy opportunities for themselves or their children – and it won’t be the last.

Nearly every headline I’ve seen has referred to the behavior of the 50-plus parents and coaches as an “admissions scandal.” But let’s call it what it is: Bribery. Fraud. Obstruction of Justice. It’s theft, too, isn’t it? Because these parents stole a spot for their child from a deserving, hardworking student. You know what else it is? It’s sad. It’s sad that parents sent a message to their children that they’d need to lie and cheat to get into college rather than get in on their own merits. It’s sad that in “helping” their kids they communicated that they just weren’t good enough for a top-tier school, yet any other school would be beneath them. It’s sad that they sent a message to their kids that honesty, diligence and integrity are meaningless. 

But what message is now being sent to the rest of our children, the ones who weren’t born with every advantage, and what do we make of it? Well, I think that’s up to interpretation and perspective. We can choose to be jaded and bitter and pass that message on to our kids, and who could blame us? Or perhaps we can use this latest example of injustice as an opportunity to have an important conversation with our children. We can talk to our kids about classism and privilege and the ways in which the system is broken, and how it was broken long before this “scandal.” We can discuss ways in which the system can be improved. We can discuss integrity, character and diligence. We can remind our kids that they are good enough no matter what school they go to, and that they’re good enough if they choose a path other than college, too.

We can also talk to our children about how our expectations and values haven’t changed, regardless of what others may choose to do, fair or unfair. I love my kids. I want them to succeed. I want to see them go to the college of their dreams, if that’s what they want. But not at any cost.

Photo: The Sterling Law School at Yale University

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Mike Prochaska
Cheaters glad they got caught
Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
This has been the most disturbing thing. As a mom and stepmom of seven kids who earned their way into their colleges, including several who earned merit scholarships based on their own hard work, I just cannot wrap my mind around it. I know parents would do most anything for their kids, but really! Your piece is spot on, Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead , thank you!
Tabitha Jones
Exactly this! I feel cheated on behalf of my kids who worked their butts off to get scholarships, to fill out extra applications, to write those extra essays.
Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
YES, Tabitha Jones . So many kids and parents go through this difficult process the right way. It is maddening to see others cheat their way into these schools when so many kids worked for the opportunity and were denied. Your kids are amazing. I am so proud of all of our kids who worked hard and got into their colleges, earned merit and athletic scholarships, etc., on their own merits!
ccastell
And what about the kids who were placed in an environment where they are unlikely to thrive because they are just not qualified.
Dr. Manish Shah
I was raised with privilege. My parents were models for hard work. It never occurred to me that you could get anywhere WITHOUT hard work. These people involved in the college admissions scandal will have plenty of time to re-evaluate their priorities in prison. There are plenty of more deserving kids out there who have put in the sweat equity for their futures and would do a lot more with the opportunities stolen from them. It is sad.
Serge Boyer
But the problem here is like asking the question; «The hen before the egg or....»
I agree that this is wrong. It puts a dent in our social values. So yes it's not right but let's be honest even though you pay to be accepted in a prestigious university but if you don't have the notes, you won't graduate…..

But here's my question: Would you as a parent bend the rules & try to bribe someone who could save the life of your child by passing ahead of everyone who was in line? It's not a question of values it's a question survival. For one person it's one thing but for another….well to ask the question is giving the answer.
Now the other thing, why is the tuition so expensive in a university & less in another. Are the teachers that good that different?

OK if you enter on a scholarship, that could be different mostly in sport? As per the rest! Things are a bit different in Canada.

(excuse my English, I'm from Quebec & mother tongue is French)

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