This exchange of wealth for acceptance is a practice that spans the country, creating a culture of elitism within America’s colleges and universities. Students report hearing about unfair admissions practices throughout their time in high school, with some of their peers openly bragging about their parents’ donations.
With costs skyrocketing among new expectations of a resort-like college experience, universities look to find creative ways to increase revenue. Some of this additional money comes from rising tuition, increasing the size of the freshman class, holding fundraising campaigns and soliciting generous donations.
During the 2017-2018 academic and fiscal year, UM listed $312.7 million in contributions, pledges and trusts. In 2017, USC reported contributions totaling a whopping $610 million, reminding students that universities are businesses as well as educators.
And while the universities are mainly concerned with their bottom line, parents are focused on the prestige that comes with their child’s acceptance into a prominent university.
Catie Cunning, 30, a college admissions counselor at Palmer Trinity School in Palmetto Bay, Florida, said that although she has never seen any solid evidence of cheating firsthand, she has heard parents allude to their connections with upper level administrators of prestigious universities.
“There absolutely are parents who are willing to pay the way for their child’s future,” she said.
The UM administration declined to respond to questions about how it responds to parent who offer donations in exchange for admission.
Many UM students say they’ve met these kinds of parents. A sense of stifling competition chokes the air in many high school hallways, especially in the elite private schools that attract wealthy families.
Nicole Habina, a junior political science major, said she knew of a father who asked a prominent southern school “if they wanted a new library or just a few hundred grand.” Dealings like these were commonplace at her high school, she said, since parents were willing to spend big bucks if it meant their kids got into prestigious colleges.
Freshman nursing major Jillian Meyer recounted a similar experience, but this one involved millions of dollars, not thousands. She said one of her classmates got into a different southern university, despite being a terrible student.
“She couldn’t break 1100 on the SAT, so everyone at my school looked up her last name knowing she had money and found her family’s charity had been donating upwards of $15 million,” said Meyer.
Claims such as these are causing students to question the fairness of the college admissions process, which remains largely shrouded in mystery. Members of the admissions department staff act as the gatekeepers of UM from behind closed doors, keeping their exact methods an enigma to the outside world.