The College Admissions Scandal

Modern parenting is hard. All parents want only the best for their children, and some parents will stop at nothing to ensure their children get all the opportunities they can. This temptation is no doubt what led dozens of parents to exaggerate the abilities of their children and amend test scores to ensure their children attend the best schools in the nation.

In Boston, federal prosecutors charged 33 parents and thirteen coaches in a national scheme which ‘gamed’ the college admissions process, including fake applications, doctored tests scores, and outright bribery. Among the defendants are celebrities, well-known lawyers, and wealthy businessmen.

Some of them paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their entrance exams doctors. Others paid off coaches to accept their children on the university athletic team (even if their child had zero experience in that sport). But perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the case is how faking test scores or exaggerating applications rises to the level of a federal crime.

For cases like this, the federal statutes on mail and wire fraud would be implicated. These statues include schemes to defraud as including the ‘right to honest services’ – which would include college admissions. Convictions of crimes for mail and wire fraud carry a prison sentence of up to twenty years in prison.

This includes cases involving bribes and kickbacks. So, if a university employee accepts payment in exchange for a student being admitted to a school who may not otherwise be able to get in on the basis of their qualifications, this could rise to the level of a federal crime because it would defraud the college of honest services they are owed. Parents paying the bribe are an accomplice in the scheme.

The reason this can seem difficult to comprehend as a crime, even if perhaps the morality of such conduct is not debatable, is because – as with many white collar crimes – it seems to be a victimless crime. The victim would be a student who was unable to get into that university because their spot was ‘taken,’ although chances are, they do not know the precise reason why their application was rejected.

While the parents who are involved in the scheme face criminal prosecution and potential jail time, the collateral damage cannot be calculated at this point. First, their careers and reputation are tainted. Famous actresses like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have to face questions from their fans.

At least one parent is a member of the legal profession, and his professional license is in the balance. A conviction of a crime, especially one of fraud, can have serious repercussions on a lawyer’s professional qualifications. And their children also face consequences, even if not criminal ones. For the most part, it appears the children who are the subject of the scandal had no knowledge of the scheme.

Yet colleges are rescinding admissions of these students. Some students had developed their own significant brands with businesses, who have since withdrawn their sponsorships. The fallout and scope of this scandal continue to change, and will no doubt affect how college admissions operate in the future.

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