The College Entrance Cheating Scandal; Heads or Tails

There have always been crooks, sociopaths, and con men, but they were looked down on by society at large.  This week a scandal broke that involved wealthy parents participating in an elaborate scam in which they got their children into prestigious universities through bribery and fraud.  In past decades such individuals would have been ostracized to such an extent that it would have made it unlikely than anyone – even those disposed to lie and cheat – would have participated in such a scam.  It seems (and this is only an impression) that crooks seem more likely to participate in white collar crime than they once did. 

The public disclosure of President Trump’s questionably legal activities, along with those of his cronies, may have made it seem more acceptable to be a crook.  The segment of the population that has been described as the Trump base doesn’t seem to have much in common with the wealthy elite who have been willing to commit fraud and bribe officials to gain college entrance for their kids.  Maybe it is all just a coincidence.

I am way past the age of having to worry about college admission for my kids.  In fact one of my granddaughters has a Master’s degree and is working, but I remember when we were all trying to discover the best way to get a child into a good school that we could afford.  Our older daughter was enrolled at the University of Iowa in Iowa City when we moved to North Carolina.  One of the women in our office was working toward getting her son into one of the North Carolina universities so that she could pay in-state tuition.  She was finally successful, but she made the comment that the schools favored out of state applicants which made it hard for in-state graduates. 

It was complicated.  Legacy students, children of wealthy donors, and foreign wonder kids all made it harder for North Carolina graduates to get into public universities.  We never considered that some students may have actually been admitted through fraud.  Our daughter never attended college in North Carolina.  She took and extended leave and finished at the University of Oregon for both her B.S. and M.S. 

Several of the students who applied through fraud in the recent scam posed as stars in minor sports and in some cases bribed coaches of sports like volleyball to accept their kids into the sports program.  The thinking was that no one has ever heard of most of the stars in minor sports and posing as an outstanding swimmer or volleyball player would not raise eyebrows.  It seems to have worked until the cover blew off.

Duke Football Game

I have maintained for years that intercollegiate sports should be banned.  Sports programs end up running Universities when it ought to be the reverse.  Athletes are recruited who have no business in college.  All sorts of tricks have to be played to keep the athletes in school and on scholarships  It seems that it would be better if universities were places of higher learning, and outstanding high school athletes should be on “minor league” teams in all sorts of sports concentrating on being an outstanding athlete instead of posing as a student.

This would not affect intramural athletics.  Students could still play in those leagues, there would be no path to professional sports.  Instead, those activities would just function as recreation and relieve stress. 

Of course, few are going to like this approach because for many college alumni, following their school’s football, basketball and baseball seasons is a major form of entertainment, social activity, and functions as an avenue for networking.  For some reason those individuals tend to be conservative in their approach to politics and life. Socially progressive alumni seem less interested in following their alma mater’s sports season, and of sports in general. 

This approach works in Europe where there are sports clubs (teams) for football (soccer) that are supported by cities in various countries.  An advantage to this approach would be that being a fan would not have an educationally elite ring; sports fans could come from all classes with all backgrounds of education.  Perhaps that is the reason things work the way they do in Europe.  Students are tracked and directed from a young age toward a blue collar or white collar career.  That is a point of controversy, but another topic.  I don’t know whether football clubs ever decide they want to move to another city as professional teams do in the U.S.  Also, are there “minor league” clubs in Europe that feed into the powerhouse clubs?

Some worry that exclusive of a sports program no one would want to go to and support an exclusive university.  Duke University, for example, is set in Durham, North Carolina.  Durham is not exactly a vacation spot.  Still, Duke attracts high quality national and international students.  Some would argue, “No Blue Devils; no Duke.”  That’s not a bad argument, but there are colleges and universities that attract high quality students without a known, or powerful, sports program.  Students go to Harvard or Dartmouth based on their continuing reputation for academic excellence and an incredibly strong alumni program.  True, those are both “Ivy League” schools with a long history and excellent reputation that don’t need sports programs to attract good students, so are there other academically excellent, lesser known colleges in other areas of the country.  I would argue yes, and the fact that you and I haven’t heard of them does not lessen their standing. 

Reed College is set in a nature preserve in a suburb of Portland Oregon.  According to Wikipedia the acceptance rate is 35%, the graduation rate is 79%, and the cost – after aid – is $24,000 per year.  The campus is calculated to look old and venerable (my opinion) as the architecture is Tudor in style.  I went there once to visit in the early 1960s and was impressed.  My wander mate when we visited commented, “We probably couldn’t get in there.”  That was true and ignored the fact that I certainly couldn’t afford the tuition (even after aid).

Rhodes College sits on over one hundred wooded acres in Historic Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.  I lived near there for several years when it was it went by another name.  The architecture is massive and rustic.  Students are students.  I walked through one of the dorms and was surprised to find that most of the room doors were open and students did not look up from their desk to see who was in the hall.  I’ve known one graduate casually, and can tell you that he is a step above most of my colleagues in academic interests and skills.  The admission rate is less than 50% and average ACT and SAT scores are impressive.  Undergraduate tuition and fees for the 2016-7 year were $43,224. 

I’m sure that for each of these schools there are ten similar schools.  They are academically excellent, pricey, and unknown except to academics.

There are all sorts of exceptions to the above.  One of my daughters is/was a natural athlete.  She excelled in almost any sport she played.  While a student at University of Tennessee she began to go to a soccer field where students played Ultimate Frisbee.  One day she volunteered to play and fairly quickly became team quality.  UT had a team that played Ultimate at a number of venues, including Harvard.  Thinking back about the difference between scholarship athletics and sports like Ultimate, she related that football players rode on airplanes and air conditioned buses to events.  Ultimate players gathered somewhere, counted their change, and carpooled to Massachusetts.  If they had a uniform it was matching T-shirts (orange, orange, orange).

For decades the Southwest Conference was composed of a number of Texas schools and the University of Arkansas.  Most of those Texas schools – like S.M.U., T.C.U. and Texas A&M – were weak compared to the University of Texas and the University of Arkansas.  In addition to those schools the conference included Rice University which was an academic destination.  Rice usually anchored the conference by having the lowest success rate in athletics.  One college eventually dropped out because it had such a low success rate.  Eventually (I don’t know why) the Southwest Conference dissolved and teams from that conference joined other conferences.  Arkansas went to the Southeast Conference and everything changed.  A winning season became a goal, and then a winning season wasn’t enough; the alumni wanted to be the conference champions.  It was the usual story: recruit a coach, give that coach a few years to build a reputation and recruit top notch players, expect a winning season and then a conference win.  No win and the cycle starts over.  A big difference in SW and SE conference sports is the size of the conference.  There aren’t enough games in a football season for all of the teams to play each other, so there may be years when a conference champion isn’t in your college’s schedule.  How can you be conference champs when you have an undefeated season, but never played last year’s champion (which also had an excellent season; a season with one loss to an accomplished team.)  Roll Tide, Go Gators, Sooo Pigs, Get ’em Tigers, everyone has their favorite and they are merciless if their team doesn’t win.  Get a new coach.  Fire the athletic director. 

Schools listen because the next step above athletic director is President of the University, and because many of the most demanding fans are also big money donors to the school. Those big money donors are listened to, as well, when they have a son or daughter who wants to go to the University.

The tail wags the dog.


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Comment by J.P. Hart on March 17, 2019 at 10:52am

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{Ma Fischer's Farwell @ North Rues}

Comment by koshersalaami on March 17, 2019 at 11:16am

Ban intercollegiate sports? Maybe funding past a certain point but pas that? The Ivies definitely have intercollegiate athletics. I was an Intercollegiate fencer. Not exactly that kind of problem.

Comment by Anna Herrington on March 17, 2019 at 1:03pm

This one, this scandal, really got me. So disheartening and disgusting, these people with money and such fragile egos they couldn't handle their own kids' realities, as far as being able to independently get into a school.... pathetic.

And I don't mind the wealth, it's the attitude these people have that they *must* have kids in schools they can brag about that pissed me off so royally. Accept who your kid is, folks.

Personally, I think all students ought to get through college their own way with no parental/other money at all. And the schools themselves ought to be structured with that expectation in mind, that the students' are the independent force that achieves. Same with SAT preps etc, they ought to be banned. Your SAT score reflects what you have learned in school, period. College/university students would then actually mature into adults rather than stagnate or turn alcoholic, they'd learn how to use money, how to prioritize, how to think independently and how to work.

My rant of the moment  ; )

Comment by koshersalaami on March 17, 2019 at 2:50pm

How many kids could afford college without parental assistance?

Comment by Maui Surfer on March 17, 2019 at 3:48pm

The is the Panama Academic Papers

Comment by Anna Herrington on March 17, 2019 at 5:49pm

kosh, really?

My kids did it with assortment of jobs, loans, grants, cheap place to live, and the one who's a CPA took an extra year to get through. He also got good grades (but not in high school) and so was eligible for scholarship from sophomore year on. The one still in uni, we'll see how long it takes. He's also going for CPA and is 'collecting' languages, fluent in a couple. He also is on the rowing team.  : ) But he actually is, unlike one of the entitled scammers. Our third son, the oldest, dropped out of high school but then got GED with high score and started his own business years ago. He does well.

If they'd had someone else pay for their college/university I seriously doubt they would be doing as well as they are or floating their own boat as well, or so fast anyway, maybe. College-bound kids in families with no college fund or extra means *have* to get serious.

Plenty do it. 

Comment by Anna Herrington on March 17, 2019 at 5:54pm

...and if no student had outside $$ the field would be so much more balanced. 

Way less time to party, get in trouble, assault people and stuff, too.

Of course, the schools (or plenty of them anyway) would need a paradigm adjustment rather than (too often) a facade of wanting students, $ or not, to get a good education.

Comment by Ron Powell on March 18, 2019 at 3:37am

The relationship between the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the NFL, NBA, and MLB ought to be investigated and disclosed...

The idea that college athletes can't be paid for their efforts and services, while their schools make billions is the real sham and fraud here....

There is a term for profiting on the back of unpaid labor...SLAVERY....

There are places where after the completion of the allotted 4 years of eligibility, the 'student athlete' is forced to drop out of school because of the inability to read...

Comment by Rodney Roe on March 18, 2019 at 4:42am

Kosh, I went to N inexpensive state college, lived in dorms, paid a monthly fee to eat in the cafeteria, and had little social life. I worked summers, odd jobs, and got paid for the last two years of ROTC. Mother sent me $30.00/month for spending money. I owed $1100. When I graduated medical school and weighed 122 lb. from eating one meal a day. Amid couldn’t do that today because tuition and fees have doubled adjusted for income for a family of four.

Ron, isn’t it more like indentured servitude? That works for the ones who make it in the pros, but not for most so just get free love and adoration. Of course it is much the same for minor league baseball. (Ref. Bull Durham- the movie)

Comment by Rodney Roe on March 18, 2019 at 5:15am

kosh, how excited do Harvard students get about their school's teams?  Do they tailgate at football games?  Did you have to get spare change together to travel as a fencer?  For those of us from the 'heartland' Ivy League has seemed remote, unattainable, and restricted to the wealthy elite.  That said, one of our older daughter's friends went there on academic scholarship, and got a masters degree in medieval German literature.  Her father was a college professor and I think she mined the various scholarships in order to go free of tuition. She has lived with her family in various countries like Singapore, Sri Lanka, and India since graduation because she married a fellow student whose field was international banking.  I wonder how their kids will make out at time for college admission.  Probably well.  I think their mother has been tutoring them.


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