Op-Ed

College admissions scandal exposes a badly-broken system. To fix it, focus on students.

Coaches, celebrities indicted in college admissions bribery case

Court documents released Tuesday show dozens of celebrities and coaches have been charged with participating in a college admissions scam to get their children into prestigious schools.
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Court documents released Tuesday show dozens of celebrities and coaches have been charged with participating in a college admissions scam to get their children into prestigious schools.

March Madness took on new meaning this year, thanks to the indictment of parents, coaches, test proctors and a certain “admission consultant” made public recently. No longer just for basketball, it’s now an apt description for the unveiling of one of the most stupendous college admission scandals of all time.

The fraudulent admission scheme is cause for grave concern, particularly in its breadth. Corruption in college athletics is not new, nor is corruption in the standardized testing world, sadly. Each is reprehensible yet I believe there are three reasons why we have all been especially horrified.

First, the best interest of the students appears to have been lost. Parents ignored their moral compass in trying to create opportunities for their kids instead of encouraging their kids to create opportunities for themselves. By cheating the system many have suffered, not least the students at the center of this maelstrom who now have a 21st century scarlet letter to bear.

Second, admission committees purporting to review all applicants carefully, holistically, fairly, have been shown to be relatively easy to deceive. Students who’ve poured their hearts and energy into the application process now wonder: to what end?

Third, the individual who presented himself as a guide for the college admission process turned out to be nothing of the sort. Those who’ve devoted their lives to guiding students ethically are appalled by the wiliness and overt disregard for ethical behavior that the man at the center of the indictment exhibited. He was not a member of professional organizations upholding standards, although clearly his clients weren’t concerned about such qualifications.

Layered atop the national conversation about social and economic inequities, this indictment felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Students who’ve been taught that their effort will lead to doors opening are now cynical, indeed.

In the course of the college search, students should develop direction and self-knowledge, a marvelous trajectory to observe. And this makes for a very effective transition to college, where they’ll have to be responsible for so much on their own.

When the process is subverted, a significant opportunity for growth is lost. In our society, pressures have mounted tremendously. Students and parents hear a great deal of “noise” about colleges and feel pressure from peers to aim for a certain set of schools.

More students are battling anxiety, wondering if what they accomplish will ever be good enough. But we must ask, good enough for what? For a life well-lived, I hope, a life in which learning never stops and concern for family, friends and community grows exponentially over time.

Sitting on college admission committees years ago, I learned about institutional priorities firsthand in assembling the class: recruited athletes, diversity of all sorts, children of alumni and donors and faculty and even town residents. It all made sense … from that side of the desk. Yet there was no transparency for the public.

High school seniors tell of the quirks, agonies, frustrations and benefits of applying to the nation's top universities.

As an educational consultant, I help students understand the application review process and the steps they can take to tell their stories as completely as possible when applying. Yet my greater goal is to help families focus on whether a college would be the right fit for the student, regardless of renown.

This admission scandal shows us that there is plenty of room for constructive change, and a desperate need for it. Media attention is provoking lively and important conversations among students, parents, and all who guide them. It’s also leading colleges to self-examination, and perhaps improvement to the admission system will result.

For the sake of the students, this version of March Madness shows us that change can’t come fast enough to the badly broken admission process. Good matches where students can thrive and grow, based on individual interests and accomplishments: that’s the goal worthy of pursuit.

Jane Shropshire is an educational consultant in Lexington, a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), and a Certified Educational Planner.

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