Parents across the country are enraged over allegations of a multi-million dollar bribery scheme using wealth and fame to influence the admission of students into prestigious universities. Fifty people – including Hollywood celebrities like ‘Full House’s Lori Loughlin and ‘Desperate Housewives’ star Felicity Huffman – are accused in what prosecutors are calling the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted. Of particular concern is the allegation that the scam involved exploiting an entrance exam policy meant to help students with disabilities. As moms and attorneys who defend students nationwide in cases of misconduct, we understand the anger and frustration. We’re all wondering how something like this could happen, and questioning just how level the playing field really is when it comes to college admissions.
According to a federal affidavit, SAT and ACT administrators were bribed to allow cheating on the exams that included providing or correcting answers, having someone else take the test for the student, or allowing the student to have extra time to complete it – an accommodation provided by the College Board for those with legitimate, medically documented disabilities. Many parents of legitimately disadvantaged students are understandably outraged and concerned about what this could mean for testing moving forward. No doubt, the SAT/ACT will be under intense scrutiny to ensure steps are taken to prevent this level of corruption from happening again.
Just as enraging – qualified students who don’t come from privileged backgrounds may have missed out on deserved opportunities as a result of this scam. Prosecutors will push for jail time and steep fines for the parents involved (the fate of the privileged students remains to be seen). But there is a growing push for the universities to take action, too. They may choose to hold a misconduct hearing to determine whether the students were aware of their parents’ alleged actions. At least some of the kids may have had no idea. But if they did know what was going on, how will the schools proceed? Will the colleges try to even the score by revoking acceptances based on misrepresentation and fraud? Will current students be kicked out? Will those who have already graduated have their degree revoked?
The bottom line? Smart, hardworking kids shouldn’t be at a disadvantage compared to those with money and connections. Neither should students with legitimate disabilities. The ball is now in the colleges’ court: will they level the playing field?
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