COLLEGE ADMISSIONS FIASCO

As a grandfather of nine grandchildren—three of whom who have already finished their educations as part of a third generation in the same college, including two doctors and a lawyer, and six more on the cusp of college—I have learned more than I ever imagined was to be learned about the whole tricky process of college admissions.

First, the good news. The recently reported serious frauds that distort the wheels of the admissions process perversely  is GOOD NEWS because it indicates clearly that the system has been working pretty well, by excluding some very dubious folks, with exceptionally bad judgment, who believed they had to game and corrupt the system to overcome it for themselves. That is a genuine positive aspect of otherwise terrible news.

At the same time former Harvard President Larry Summers has now observed that the admission systems inevitably benefit some more than others by recognizing factors such as special sports abilities and what they call ‘legacy’ issues where some people, who have a serious history of helping Harvard (not just with money), because they have been part of the Harvard family over time. Evidently, Harvard has thousands more kids who are academically qualified than they can take and, therefore, they have no choice but to make tough choices and decisions. Happily, Harvard was not one the colleges that got scammed.

The scandal also, happily and usefully, uncovers several serious soft spots in the admissions process that can be pretty easily addressed:

  1. The ability for people to ‘sit in’ for students is appalling – knowing how it was done should help the College Board and others better prevent it.

  2. The ability to bribe testing companies by jiggling and inventing scores also should be easy to stop by only using ‘unidentifiables’, or two random people, with access to the process of recording or transmitting scores.

  3. Giving serious admissions priority to secondary sports is no doubt excessive. If colleges can afford to waste these spots on phony athletes, perhaps the number of athletic scholarships allowed under NCAA rules is too high.

  4. Major sports do present a problem. Increased transparency and special procedures for approving any exceptions to academic qualifications can help.

Our modern world has spawned a great many new rich and famous people whose only real lacking may be their difficulty in breaking into what they see as an inaccessible, charmed circle that they want for their kids. These are people for whom money has long opened doors, and who became accustomed in many of the worlds they succeeded in to simply ‘buying’ success. In the process they are both hurting themselves and their children.

The ‘legacy’ issues are touchy and difficult, but so are the special skills and talents that all schools are looking for.

Part of the problem is also that some intermediaries, who make their living by advising ambitious and rich people (who incidentally never learned the rules of the road in private education), saw a new way to get their job done effectively and easily, and also make more money for themselves at the same time. That said, there are a lot of very legitimate ‘advisors’ who would ABSOLUTELY NOT engage in those rotten shenanigans that most people know without thinking is plain wrong.

Bottom line: it is a scandalous and salacious story BUT by itself should kill and cure the problem, which is good for all of us.

Unfortunately, some innocent people have been, or will be, badly burned in the process. It remains to be seen, for example, what will happen to the girl who got a soccer ‘ticket’ without ever having played the sport. She almost surely would have known what was going on.

The other people who knew, or should have known, that they were cheating will get what they deserve, AND they also should be thanked for their stupidity in helping to cleanse the system.

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