Admissions scam adds insult to injury for minority applicants

William “Rick” Singer (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Bryan Snyder/Reuters, Getty Images)

In what a federal prosecutor called “the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice,” dozens of people were charged in a bribery scheme to cheat on SAT and ACT entrance exams and buy admission to elite schools for the children of wealthy parents. For parents who don’t have that kind of money, or who wouldn’t engage in such chicanery, it was an occasion for outrage, as well as schadenfreude. But for those trying to get underprivileged public-school graduates into top colleges, it called attention to the ongoing fight to make the whole admissions system fairer.

Through payments disguised as donations, parents involved in the cheating scandal paid between $250,000 and $400,000 per student to its “mastermind,” William Singer, who then laundered the money through his college counseling service to bribe college officials and coaches. Between 2011 and 2018, Leling said, the charged parents paid Singer about $25 million in total to guarantee their children’s admission to schools such as Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, USC, University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.

Although the schools aren’t considered co-conspirators, two Stanford University students have filed a class-action lawsuit against them for “failing to take adequate steps to ensure that their admissions process was fair and free of fraud, bribery, cheating and dishonesty.”

Singer pleaded guilty to a scheme that included facilitating cheating on admissions tests, paying confederates to complete online high school classes in the students’ names and creating fake sports profiles for children to get them on athletic-recruitment lists.

“These are things that have consistently been going on — maybe not that blatant — but now it’s just up in the air and out in public,” said Emmanuel Moses, assistant director of college guidance and transition at the Opportunity Network, a nonprofit helping 2,500 students who are either “underrepresented, first generation, low income [or from] immigrant households” with college and career access.

“It is an extreme example of how access to privilege and money give you a heads-up in the game, by giving you access to hire a test prep, getting into specialized schools, paying college admission and independent education counselors to be able to sort of work the system.”

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