Over 30 Wealthy Families Accused of Purchasing Admission to Elite Universities

It surprises no one that gaining admission to elite universities is a difficult, unfair process that remains riddled with biases. In recent weeks, however, new information has surfaced to reveal the full advantage wealth can provide those willing to undermine the strict meritocracy universities are said to uphold.

In a scandal the FBI calls “Operation Varsity Blues,” college admissions counsellor William Rick Singer has been confirmed to use bribery and blatant lies to guarantee students entrance into prestigious universities, including University of Southern California, Harvard University, Stanford University, and University of Texas. To accomplish this, Singer used his position as the head of Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College and Career Network, both of which are designed to help students with their SATs and ACTs.

A total of 50 people have been charged with bribery, including two SAT administrators, one exam proctor, nine coaches, one college administrator, and 33 parents. This last group includes celebrities Lori Loughlin, who is best known for her role on sitcom Full House, Felicity Huffman, an Academy Award-nominated actress, and Marci Palatella, the wife of a former NFL player.

One form of the fraud involved cheating on SATs and ACTs. This was done by fabricating travel plans in order to take the exams under Singer’s supervision, or claiming that students had learning disorders in order to take the exams privately. In a handful of cases, Mark Riddel, a Harvard alumnus, posed as the students to take the exams at the discretion of exam proctors Igor Dvorskly and Lisa Williams, who were also bribed. Parents requesting these services for their children allegedly paid between $15,000 and $75,000.

According to Singer, the practice of submitting fraudulent paperwork regarding learning disabilities has reportedly been going on for much longer. This has yet to be investigated.

The second method included bribing university athletics coaches to identify students as potential recruits, with the knowledge that athletes are significantly more likely to be granted admission. Along with bribes of up to $950,000, Singer would sometimes provide images of applicants’ faces edited onto athletes’ bodies as a testament to the legitimacy of their involvement.

Singer has been charged with four felony counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. He has been sentenced to 65 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

“I want to communicate to everyone that I am profoundly sorry for the damage I have done and the grief I have caused those as a result of my needless actions,” claimed Singer in a public statement. “I understand how my actions have contributed to a loss of trust in the college admissions process.”

Students’ opinions suggest that this trust had never been as strong as Singer believes it is. “I always knew that wealthy people had an advantage, but I think it’s amazing to see the sense of entitlement these rich families have,” says Julia Moreno, ’19. “It’s so frustrating to see abuse of power like this.”

“I’m shocked to say I’m not surprised,” agreed Nicole Thomas, ’19. “I feel if this was going to happen anywhere, it would be in America.”

Further information regarding the scandal has yet to be uncovered, but its implications have continued to spark discussion about universities’ legal but potentially questionable practices, such as favouring legacy students and applicants who have been afforded greater opportunities their entire lives—preferences found even in institutions not involved in the scandal.

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Jo Ann Kirby