12.3.19

HOW MUCH EXCESS DEMAND IS THERE FOR ADMISSION TO NAME COLLEGES?

A lot, apparently. "Felicity Huffman released on bail after allegedly bribing to get kid into college as part of sweeping admissions scandal."  She's apparently famous in some entertainment circles, and married to someone famous in some fashion circles.

The complaint also names Lori Loughlin, another celebrity who had not previously come to my attention.  Her younger kid is a real piece of work.

Pi Day update: here's the NBC clip.


Watch at 43 seconds, when she notes "I want the experience of, like, game days, partying ... I don't really care about school."  More details here.

But her parents were able to find people outside higher education with connections inside higher education to pass their spawn off as student-athletes in relatively obscure sports, or to work the disability machinery.
The allegations also extend to cheating on the SAT and the ACT. According to the indictments, those involved in the conspiracy encouraged students they were being paid to help to file papers with ACT or the College Board saying that they had learning disabilities. When they received permission to take the test under special circumstances (typically with extra time), these applicants were told to use one of two testing centers that one of the defendants said he could "control." Those taking the tests were then told to come up with fake reasons, such as a family wedding, for needing to take the exam in one of these centers, which were far from their homes. Bribes were then allegedly given to have others take the tests.
The extended time scam is nothing new.  Apparently, though, there are people willing to pay large sums of money to rig admissions to favor their kids, without calling attention to themselves by doing it the old fashioned way, making a large donation.  That suggests a population of inframarginal applicants with large consumer surpluses, and perhaps an opportunity for the institutions of higher education to appropriate some of those consumer surpluses.

Inside higher education, however, there are people whose salaries depend upon them not recognizing the incentives at work.
David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, via email offered these thoughts on the indictments:

"This is an unfortunate example of the lengths to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, particularly at highly selective colleges," Hawkins said. "The activities involved are indicative of why NACAC has maintained a code of ethics since 1937, which is to ensure that those involved in college admission abide by an ethical process built on a commitment foundation of fairness, trust, responsibility and equity. We know that with such high demand, acceptance to college can drive unethical (and illegal) behavior."

Added Hawkins: "This is an extreme response to the ‘commodification’ of the college admission process -- one that is focused on college acceptance as an end unto itself, when, as NACAC members are quick to point out, the ultimate end is the development of the student at a college that is the best fit for them."
The problem, dear reader, is that the people running institutions of higher education don't recognize the clear opportunity to lift their academic profile.  Let's call the roll of the institutions involved.  "The plot involved students who attended or were seeking to attend Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors."

How things change in forty years.  I recall a time when some residents of the state of Michigan resented their University of Michigan, as it admitted a relatively small undergraduate class each year, and it was tough to get into.  I recall, some years later, an article on the positional arms race college admissions had become, at least as viewed by The Wall Street Journal, in which one of the students, none of whom anyone would perceive as disadvantaged, named the University of Michigan as his safety school.  You'd think that somebody at Michigan, or Northern Illinois, or Marquette, or the mythical Ishkabibble State, would look at the kind of money involved in these bribes and calculate that it might be able to beef up a few departments, or endow a chair or two with somebody Nobel- or Fields-worthy.

But that's not the way the people running higher ed roll these days.  Consider the lede from the report filed by the house organ for business as usual.  "A wide-ranging bribery scheme is unsettling higher education, raising uncomfortable questions about the role of wealth and privilege in the admissions process."  I remember when good reporting meant reporting the facts, not necessarily introducing The Narrative.  Here, though, perhaps The Narrative is telling.  Do the people running the institutions of higher education go all-in on diversity and therapeutic culture and access-assessment-remediation-retention as a way of deflecting attention from their very own in-the-breach approach to precisely those things?  Note the reporter the Chronicle assigned to the story.  "Sarah Brown writes about a range of higher-education topics, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life."  Those are the higher education beats with a higher incidence of fake news.

Watch, though, while the administrators don yet another hair shirt, and celebrate a few more diversities, and hire additional assistants-to-the-associate-vice-president for diversity and inclusion and set up more reeducation camps in the residence halls, rather than go after some of that money that's going into the acceptance black markets, because responding to incentives is class oppression, or something.

Victory Girl Toni Williams drops the hammer.
For Loughlin, Huffman, Macy and all of the other innocent until proven guilty types allegedly involved in Operation Varsity Blues, these final words. If you are guilty of these alleged crimes, shame on you. There are parents and children all over the United States who worked hard, studied, and played by the rules. But you desperate, insecure people couldn’t live with the fact that your spawn weren’t special so you allegedly cheated and took the seat of someone worthy. Now you have the varsity blues, too.
Why do institutions of higher education not simply respond to the excess demand?

2 comments:

David Foster said...

One of these people apparently paid ***6.5 million*** to get their kid into some college. For this kind of money, they could have bought him or helped him start a substantial business.

Really shows the degree to which educational credentials (not actual education) have become overvalued. The actual social function of most "name" colleges--whatever their stated missions---seems to be the erection and perpetuation of class barriers.

Stephen Karlson said...

Indeed so.

The Roman Catholic Church of five centuries ago served a similar function. Sell naming rights on the facade of St. Peter's, sell indulgences to keep the lesser nobility out of purgatory, set up new orders of diversity scolds, er, mendicant monks, to frighten and control the masses.

What continues to bother me is how nobody at Northern Illinois or Marquette or, given what I'm learning about traffic in indulgences, Michigan or Wisconsin goes right after the credential seekers by creating some stronger departments. It's not as if either the Ivies or the accrediting agencies can tell them to repent or be excommunicated.

Well, now, something occurs to me. The accrediting agencies now put a lot of weight on having the right sort of diversity scolds in Student Affairs. How better divert resources from providing the same intellectual challenges as the name colleges do? Particularly because a lot of the learning takes place in give-and-take with other motivated students, outside the classroom?