Operation Varsity Blues - The Price Of Cheating! The Largest US College Admission Scandal In History
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
*March 19 2019*
"This is a travesty on so many levels for parents and students who hope to come to college honestly and without any chips" - Anonymous Current College Student
What a terrible week it has been for education. Or was it? The largest college admissions scandal in United States history might just be the impetus to really start cracking down on immoral activities at colleges and graduate schools. How so? Because people are really pissed! Additionally, it further reveals a greater systemic virus that plagues elite colleges.
So what exactly happened? On March 12th 2019, the U.S. Attorney in the District of Massachusetts charged 50 people- this includes 33 parents of students and 10 college coaches- as part of a long-running, nationwide conspiracy for generally underachieving high school students to illicitly and immorally gain admission to top colleges and universities.
Parents of privilege (money and/or fame) paid anywhere from $100,000 to $6.5 million to William Rick Singer, the mastermind behind this conspiracy, to have their children admitted to 12 elite colleges: Georgetown University, UC Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, Yale University.
William Singer used multiple fraudulent methods in achieving his clients' kids gain admission to these top schools:
(1) Bribing college coaches and other athletic staff to claim students were athletic recruits when they never were!
Michael Austin, the men's tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, accepted a bribe of $100,000 and claimed an applicant was a star tennis recruit. A similar fraud occurred at Yale, where the head coach of the women's soccer team, Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith, allegedly accepted a $400,000 bribe to falsely identify an applicant as a recruit. At the University of Southern California, senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, both of USC, allegedly received $1.3 million and $250,000, respectively, for similar frauds. Bribes like these in the hundreds of thousands of dollars were also accepted at the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University, University of San Diego and Stanford University.
Bill McGlashan, a private equity investor, allegedly discussed using Photoshop to create a fake profile for his son as a football star to help him get into USC. Similarly, Marci Palatella, wife of former San Francisco 49ers Lou Palatella, worked with Singer to pass her son off as a recruit for USC. In one of the most notable cases, actress Lori Loughlin, famous for her role on the American sitcom Full House, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters accepted into USC as members of the rowing team, despite neither girl having participated in the sport.
(2) Hiring corrupt proctors at SAT/ACT testing centers who would change test answers post the students taking the tests to achieve the desired test scores!
E.g. Actress Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives paid Singer $15,000 that was used to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter.
(3) Having impersonators take the SAT/ACT tests on behalf of the students!
(4) Falsifying that students had learning disabilities when they didn't!
Singer was able to launder money to coaches, testing centers, and psychologists through his charitable organization Key Worldwide Foundation. Due to its non-profit status, the organization was exempt from paying federal income taxes and parents could deduct the amounts paid as donations from their own personal income taxes.
Singer has been charged with racketeering conspiracy for his role as the organizer of the scheme. He plead guilty on March 12, 2019, in the US District Court in Boston to four felony counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. He faces a maximum of 65 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million. All the parents and coaches charged are currently under indictment and federal prosecution.
Many current students tied to this scandal have already dropped out of school. Lori Loughlin's two daughters. Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli, have dropped out of the University of Southern California amidst fears they would experience severe bullying at the school. Both kids feel their lives are ruined and they are not sure what to do next.
Universities have been quick to respond to the sandal by sending memos to news outlets, faculty, students and parents stating that they stand for honesty, transparency and excellence and those who are linked to this scandal will be punished. No doubt the future of admissions at colleges will only get harsher. E.g. “Georgetown University is deeply disappointed to learn that former Tennis Coach, Gordon Ernst, is alleged to have committed criminal acts against the University that constitute an unprecedented breach of trust. Mr. Ernst has not coached our tennis team since December 2017, following an internal investigation that found he had violated University rules concerning admissions. Georgetown cooperated fully with the government’s investigation. We are reviewing the details of the indictment and will take appropriate action,” said Meghan Dubyak, a Georgetown spokesperson, said.
But such University comments will not be able to undo the damage to their reputation and perhaps even those of past graduates from said universities. For example, two Stanford University students filed a federal lawsuit in California that alleges the admission scandal has devalued their degree and may adversely impact their career prospects. Similarly, colleges from around America will now receive law suits valued in the billions of dollars.
I, personally, am so disheartened by these events for three parties - admissions advisors, colleges and students not from privilege.
The role of an admissions advisor is to present the best, most honest application possible for each student to their selected colleges. Admissions advisors review an applicant's strengths, weaknesses and story (past/present/future) and help design an application that embodies what the student stands for and where he/she wants to go. The advisor is a helping hand in a world that puts much pressure on young kids to go to the best schools. By no means are advisors to cheat, lie and defraud the system, especially in the favor of the elite (as Singer did). It's just so wrong. It's very disheartening to the other admissions consultants who just want to provide an honest and wonderful service of helping kids get into great schools.
You see, college admissions teams have to go through hundreds of thousands of applications each year and therefore an unseen bridge of trust that exist between prospective students and colleges. Sure there is a mandatory background check per student post an acceptance, but cheaters will always cover the tracks so well that the background check indeed 'checks' out.
And what about the hundreds of thousands of college applicants who don't come from fame or wealth? Imagine if you will a prospective student in Nigeria who is an ace soccer player who applies to an elite US college only to get dinged by a faculty member who instead accepted a bribe from a privileged parent.
When Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2009 and the world went into meltdown, regulation eventually increased and controls were put into place to mark a period of new scrutiny over the global financial sector. It is my hope that this huge college scandal will help propel investigations into other fraudulent practices within the education sector in an effort to make the global student application field more fair.
At MBA Accepted, we help students present their honest and best application forward. Admission to any top school is never guaranteed. We are a helping hand to combat the pressure and present students with our past experience (college, MBA, MBA admissions board, corporate career, entrepreneurial ventures, etc.).