Political Focus: college acceptance scandal shows critical flaws in higher education

Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were the first two of a multitude of wealthy parents caught and charged with bribing colleges to get their children accepted.

It comes as a surprise to no one, especially those in the higher education community, that wealth structurally allows privileged families to get into more prestigious colleges.

In the past, the United States has generally ignored these monetary manipulations that happen behind closed doors because they worked within the imperfect system. Some colleges transparently prefer the children and grandchildren of alumni, with investigations into Harvard University showing that legacy applicants were over five times more likely to get in than any other applicant.

Over the last week, these closed-door dealings have come to the surface as upwards of 50 wealthy parents have been indicted of various crazy schemes to cheat their children into the most selective universities.

For context, the majority of the schools targeted in this scheme are very selective, all having lower than 50 percent acceptance rates, with the majority being Ivy League caliber schools with sub-10 percent acceptance rates. For the general American public, the average college accepts two-thirds of their applicants.

To get around these statistical barriers, the guilty parents of these students manipulated the fact these universities are tax-exempt and taxpayer supported through federal and state funding. Selective institutions like the Ivy Leagues justify barring the taxpaying masses from their universities by saying they admit students based on merit.

I will repeat that, because that already feeble excuse is now being completely overturned. Yale does not have to accept everyone that applies, even though they pay for their existence through taxes, because they claim to accept based on merit.

The existence of legacy admissions and even athletic recruitment bends this claim. The bribery that is coming to the surface may force a permanent change in this policy.

On top of the already terrible manipulation of the system, careful analysis by critics of the system found something especially disturbing: according to NPR, in some cases, payments that were effectively bribes to university officials were funneled through charitable foundations to the universities, meaning the bribers also could claim tax exemptions and get their money back.

The education system before higher education is already classist, with poor communities being disproportionately affected by a lack of education, as opposed to rich families that can afford a private education. Research has shown that low-income students make up just 3 percent of America’s most selective colleges, not even counting the poor racial diversity.

Carrying this issue to the college level and making sure the already poor communities have an even worse chance at an education should be a crime.

And thankfully it is, because many of these parents are being charged with racketeering. This has been at the federal level, which only includes the parents and does not include charges against the students or universities. Two Stanford students are filing a separate class-action lawsuit against USC, Yale and UCLA.

With these lawsuits taking off, one can only hope that the long-standing issues regarding classism and corruption in education across the United States will finally see the reform it desperately needs.