Op-Eds Opinion

Morris: An education major reflects on the college cheating scandal

By Kathleen Morris

As an education major, starting my practicum has been one of the best parts of my college career. And, even though I grew up as a Springfield native, it’s been one of the most eye opening ones too. Right now I’ve been placed at a high school in Springfield with junior students, and one of the very best things about being a history teacher is getting to address present-day issues.

One present-day issue that I thought would be interesting for my students was the recent college cheating scandal. The one where everyone’s favorite aunt, Lori Loughlin (also known as Aunt Becky from Full House) among fifteen other parents, were found to have used less than honest means to get their children into elite colleges.

The reaction I received from my students was unexpected to say the least. I expected anger, surprise, and shock. What I got was shrugs and sighs, so I asked more questions. “Aren’t you surprised?” A host of no’s. “Is this fair?” More no’s. Eventually one student spoke up and said, “That’s just the way things work.” Murmurs of agreement showed this to be the general opinion of all those in the room. At seventeen years old, they believe that it truly is the way of the world for those with money to get a leg up over those who don’t.

Several parents, coaches, and university officials were found to have been involved in a nationwide college admission cheating scheme. Some parents directly bribed officials, while others paid people to take their children’s SAT/ACT exams for them.

Other parents paid coaches to select their children as recruits for sports that they didn’t even play. Some parents paid upwards towards $6.5 million to guarantee their children entry into elite schools.

William Singer, a college consultant who was found to be at the center of this scandal, described these methods as a “side door” for getting a kid into college. As of this week, he and the other people involved have been indicted for their crimes. Yet, in a world where this kind of thing is supposedly the norm, there must be scores of others who will never get caught.

As a college student myself, it’s more than troubling to think that it can be so easy for someone to use dishonest means to get accepted. College has long been viewed as the great equalizer: a place where only those who’ve worked hard can enter. And in doing so, they gain the prospect of changing their lives for the better.

That’s the hope that I tell my students, one that they’ve heard throughout their high school career. Never mind that they face the challenge of overcoming their own hurdles. Now, they must contend with hurdles that have been funded, built, and reinforced by people with money to spare.

There were issues with the system long before this, of course. People have often argued that SAT/ACT exams favor affluent students who can afford coaching beforehand. And of course, the trope of college buildings being named after overly generous parents with high hopes for their kids is a pop culture normalcy. Then there are legacy admissions, where at some colleges being the child of an alum guarantees you a spot.

According to NPR, study commissioned by Students For Fair Admissions found that legacy applicants to Harvard University were accepted at a rate of nearly 34 percent from 2009 to 2015. Athletic admissions can be dicey as well, with the Washington Post explaining that a report (“College and Beyond” by the Mellon Foundation) found that “recruited athletes with lower academic credentials get admitted at four times the rate of non-athletes with similar credentials.” All of these things, amongst others, lessens the supposed fairness involved with getting into college. This recent scandal has only furthered the tarnish.

So what is there that can be done? As a soon to be college grad myself, I don’t really have an answer. And as a soon to be teacher, even less so. Continuing to tell students that, if they try hard, they can get into any college they want, seems a little less genuine. But perhaps this recent scandal will help to further a conversation about creating genuine fairness within the college admissions world.

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