Professor Custin and Professor Berk Call for Increased Transparency Amidst College Admissions Scandal

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Illustration of Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman, celebrity parents involved in the 2019 college admissions scandalGetty Images/Ringer illustration
begin quoteThis scandal is a dark moment in the history of higher education. In its fallout, however, there lies an opportunity to implement more transparent admissions standards that can benefit students and schools alike.

Written By: Clinical Professor of Business Law and Ethics Richard Custin and Clinical Professor of Management Abby Berk // Excerpt as it appears in the International Business Times

Federal prosecutors recently uncovered a massive fraud and bribery scheme in which parents paid lavish sums to ensure their children received admission to certain highly competitive academic institutions. As part of this scheme, university coaches and school officials received payments, and students were instructed to falsely claim to have learning disabilities to qualify for testing privileges on college entrance exams.

This scandal is a dark moment in the history of higher education. In its fallout, however, there lies an opportunity to implement more transparent admissions standards that can benefit students and schools alike.

Students applying to college encounter a perplexing set of criteria and standards for admission, without a clear understanding of how their applications are evaluated. Even students who meet the stated criteria may still be rejected for reasons they will never know. 

Even with preparation, applicants face an uncertain future

As the cheating scandal proved, wealth has historically contributed to a positive admissions outcome for students. The old cliché of rich parents who donate a library or new football jerseys to a university in exchange for their children’s admission still rings true today. Additionally, a student’s cultural background could prove to be beneficial or disadvantageous, as some universities seek to increase the population of certain ethnic groups among their student bodies in particular years.

“There's no magic formula when it comes to college admission decisions,” The College Board says. Students could be rejected by their backup schools while receiving generous scholarship packages from their top choices. A profound, compelling essay might have pushed one school to grant admission to an underperforming student, while another school might not have even bothered to read the essay of someone with a high GPA. 

The only thing that is certain about college admissions is uncertainty. The level of fraud and the extensive lengths that wealthy parents went through in order for their children to be admitted to top schools have alarmed the public. But if it were a more transparent process — in which defined guidelines stated that a $1 million donation guaranteed acceptance or a $50,000 gift increased a student’s admission chances by 20 percent — would there be any less outrage? ...

Contact:

Renata Ramirez
renataramirez@sandiego.edu
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