UM responds to the college admissions scandal Anna Timmons

“The recent scandal was a tragic yet much-needed wake-up call in order to shed light on the warped and twisted ways of our college admissions process here in the U.S."

Like many other students, William Donaldson of Silver Spring, Maryland grew up thinking that hard work always pays off. However, when he got to high school, he was hit with a harsh reality.

“We were always told that we live in a place where if you work hard and on your own merit, there is no way you are not going to get to where you want to be,” said Donaldson, who is a high school senior. “That’s a complete myth. The college admissions scandal really clarifies that.”

Last month, United States federal prosecutors announced that 50 people, including 33 parents, had been involved in bribery schemes to attain falsified test scores and admittance into 11 of the nation’s leading universities.

The leader behind these scandals is William Singer, a 59-year-old man who has made his living working in college counseling. Singer allegedly accepted money from wealthy parents for years on the premise that he could get their children into the schools of their dreams by taking a back-door approach. His two firms, Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network, pled guilty for aiding the admission of more than 750 families into universities through means of privilege and fabricated applications.

The 33 parents involved in this scandal, each seeking to secure a prestigious future for their children, are accused of collectively paying millions of dollars to gain their children spots among the nation’s intellectual elites at universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown and most notably, the University of Southern California.

USC was recently named in a national college admissions scandal, allegedly taking bribes from wealthy parents. Photo Source: Flickr.com

Famous Hollywood actresses, Silicon Valley CEOs and business executives found themselves on the list of parents indicted.

Many students at the University of Miami have seen similar accounts of dishonesty used to gain an unfair advantage in the college admissions process. One student in particular, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed to know multiple students from high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area whose parents were caught up in the allegations.

“Upon the affidavit being released, my group chats flooded with names that me and my high school friends recognized, and we were not at all surprised,” the student said. She explained that the Bay Area is inundated with wealth, and most parents are successful corporate elites. Pressures run high for kids to succeed and follow in their parents’ footsteps.

The source said the students that she knew had maneuvered their way into fraudulent Georgetown and UCLA acceptances, both schools that are wrapped up in the national scandal.

Since its release to the public, the college admissions scandal has been a center point of conversation among parents and students alike, leaving many of them outraged by the apparent opportunities afforded to those of higher socioeconomic classes.

Many argue that the streamlined road open to those of privilege undermines the hard work and sacrifice of those who are not born as fortunate.

“The American Dream motto of ‘hard work pays off’ simply does not apply to the modern day, college admissions process, and privilege, wealth and fame reign supreme over merit,” said freshman Maggie Martelli-Raben, an industrial engineering major.

Getting into an elite institution such as Harvard is a feat generally preceded by months of test prep, years of sacrifice and a lifetime of dedication. Even without parents buying their children's way in, this process is made easier for those of privilege because their families can afford to groom their resumes and provide them with the best resources for success.

Sophomore Karina Sloan, a communications studies major, said that the college process further assists the rich and makes it difficult for outsiders to achieve similar status.

“These students have the ability to pay for the best private high schools, go to test prep and afford tutoring,” Sloan said, explaining that this allows students to shape their applications into exactly what elite colleges are looking for. “Not to say that using these resources you are afforded is wrong, but it’s important for many individuals to realize how there are only a select few who have access to these resources at all.”

However, as seen with the college admissions scandal, many parents have taken matters beyond expensive private schools, tutors, essay advisors and test prep classes. Many go a step beyond these privileged but legal measures and employ dishonest means of securing their children’s futures.

Through Singer’s foundations, parents were able to either entirely fake or favorably manipulate testing zones for the SATs and ACTs, buying their children highly competitive scores that they otherwise might not have earned on their own. This was done in a number of creative ways, including lying, bribing and cheating.

One of the parents under fire in this scandal, Jane Buckingham, a best-selling author and self-proclaimed parenting guru, submitted paperwork falsely saying that her son had a learning disability. This allotted him extra time on the ACT. Buckingham also paid a whopping $50,000 to Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation in order to have a proctor take the exam for her son. Buckingham’s son, along with several other students whose parents have been accused of illegal behavior, said he was not aware of what his family had done.

A UM alumna from the class of 1982, who asked to remain anonymous, shed light on the implications this scandal has for the children of the parents involved.

“I think it is despicable that the parents put their kids through this," she said. "They will be branded as not smart enough or capable of getting in on their own. This will never be able to be erased from their record.”

Another tactic Singer and his clients employed was bribing college athletics coaches to falsely name prospective students as athletic recruits. Students were staged to be recruits for soccer, football, tennis and rowing teams across the country so that their applications could be pushed forward at institutions such as Georgetown, Yale and USC.

Most famously, Lori Loughlin, an American actress known for her role as Aunt Becky on "Full House," allegedly paid $500,000 to get both of her daughters admitted into USC as staged recruits on the rowing team. Loughlin's daughter Olivia Jade, a Youtuber and influencer, faced particular criticism amidst the crisis as she was quoted saying that she was more interested in the parties at USC than her classes.

Sophomore Fiona Aronson, a former member of UM’s rowing team, was deeply upset when she heard of how athletic positions for her sport were being used to admit undeserving students.

“Getting recruited to a Division 1 school for any sport is a long, hard process,” said Aronson, who spent all of high school training for three hours a day, six days a week seeking recruitment. “I think that being a student-athlete is something that people work hard towards, and it does not deserve to be taken advantage of.”

Donna Shalala, congresswoman and former president of UM, said something like this could never occur within the UM athletics department.

"That is ridiculous," she said. "At a place like the University of Miami, it doesn't make sense for that to happen."

Others are neither shocked nor upset by the college admissions scandal. An anonymous UM freshman said that those with privilege are obligated to use it.

“The world is made for rich people," she said. "If everybody’s cheating and you’re not, you’re behind the curve. Take Olivia Jade’s parents. They realized their kid was dumb as bricks and did what they had to do to get their kid into college however they could. That’s good parenting.”

Many successful students and prominent people come from schools outside of the coveted Ivy League, which begs the question for many: Is this all worth it?

“Parents are overly concerned with name brands and fear their child will be a failure without that brand,” said Melissa Leder, a guidance counselor at G.W. Hewlett High in Hewlett, New York. “It’s a function of perceived social status. Some of these so-called 'advisors' use illegitimate means, and colleges are only too willing to turn a blind eye. It’s the students who suffer in the end.”

The parents charged in this scandal are facing the possibility of hefty fines and decades in prison. Singer, the main man behind the crime, faces up to 65 years in prison and a fine of $1.25 million. Many UM students said they are glad that these parents are facing punishment for their actions.

“People work so hard to be able to attend college," said Lexi Walker, a freshman double majoring in biology and Spanish. "The parents were taking opportunities away from the students who really deserved it.”

Devin Foster, a freshman majoring in political science put it more simply.

“This really just shows that colleges are more worried about money than they are about us and education,” he said.

Veronika Seider, Abigail Washer, Heidi Steinegger, Suzanne Rieger, Isabella Didio, Carolyn Pease, Charles Gonzalez and Kayson Davis contributed to this reporting.

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