Megan McArdle: The College Admissions Scam Reveals a Truth about Our Self-Perpetuating Elites

By McArdle, Megan | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), March 15, 2019 | Go to article overview

Megan McArdle: The College Admissions Scam Reveals a Truth about Our Self-Perpetuating Elites


McArdle, Megan, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


WASHINGTON — Let us have a moment of silence for all the affluent parents who have spent the past decade or so frantically preparing their kids for college admissions. They vastly overpaid for homes near excellent public schools — or perhaps forked over the annual price of a new car to private ones — paid for extracurriculars, tutors, college-essay coaches … but as we now realize, they could have saved some money and a lot of effort if they had just paid a sleazy consultant to fake a record of achievement, rather than going to all the trouble of pushing their kids into actually acquiring one.

On Tuesday, dozens of people were indicted, all of them wealthy and several modestly famous, for fraudulently conspiring to gain their children (or their clients' children) undeserved admissions to elite schools. Through the offices of the Key Worldwide Foundation, whose boss, William "Rick" Singer, was arrested, these parents allegedly engaged in a staggering fraud — fabricating athletic prizes, faking learning disabilities and altering standardized tests, even going so far as to photo-edit a child's head onto the body of a star football kicker.

I confess my first reaction was to ask — as the parents probably asked themselves — just how different this was from what other parents do. Anyone who went to an Ivy League school is familiar with the "development admits," underachieving kids whose arrival on campus is accompanied by a plaque on a building or a laboratory bearing their surname. Legacies get less of a boost but are more numerous, and their admission is at least partly facilitated with an eye to future donations. Meanwhile, at less exclusive institutions, the ability to pay full tuition plays an unmistakable role in deciding who gets the nod.

Then there are the more pedestrian expenditures of time and money on good school districts and every ancillary service that might improve little Emma or Ethan's shot at the Ivy League. Given the demographics of elite colleges, students who are looking around today and wondering who might have bought their way in might better ask themselves, "Who didn't?"

Of course, it has always been thus. College has always best served the best off among us; the meritocratic veneer we retrofitted onto the system in the middle of the 20th century did more to disguise the underlying reality than to alter it.

It is true that the discipline of college admissions makes those children work harder in high school than they once did. …

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