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FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 18, 2019

Federal case accuses 33 parents and others of cheating to get students into colleges

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Share a quote from an update or column about this case.
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Summarize any other education story.
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Now find a different example of economic privilege or income inequality.

You already know how ultra-competitive the college admission process can be. Now a dramatic criminal case shows the extreme steps some wealthy parents take to get their children into elite universities. Federal prosecutors charge 33 parents and 17 others in a bold scheme to buy freshman class spots at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas and other big-name campuses. Defendants include two high-profile actresses – Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin – and prominent business leaders from law firms, tech companies and the financial field.

They're accused of bribery and fraud to get their kids into highly selective schools. Some allegedly paid coaches to say teens were recruits for sports that the students didn't even play. Others allegedly paid SAT and ACT administrators to let someone smarter take tests, or bribed proctors to correct wrong answers. Another tactic was to allow more exam-taking time. About $25 million changed hands, say authorities, who also charged coaches and admissions officials with taking bribes and committing fraud. No students or universities are charged, and it's unclear if undergraduates who benefited will be allowed to stay enrolled.

The scheme's alleged leader, who's cooperating with authorities, is William Singer, founder of a college prep business called the Edge College & Career Network. He pleaded guilty last week to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud and obstruction of justice. Singer offered parents "a side door" to college acceptance, he said in court.

The case, called Operation Varsity Blues, was investigated by 200 FBI agents in six states. The scheme, which began at least seven years ago, was discovered accidentally by undercover agents working on something else about a year ago. That tip led to a sprawling, nationwide corruption probe that's the largest college admissions prosecution ever. "The parents are the prime movers of this fraud," says Andrew Lelling, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, who announced the charges last week. "The real victims in this case are the hardworking students . . . [displaced by] far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in. . . . This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud." Front-page New York Times coverage says the case announced last week is "stunning in its breadth and audacity," and shows "how college admissions have become so cutthroat and competitive that some have sought to break the rules."

Prosecutor says: "There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy." -- Andrew Lelling, U.S. Justice Department chief attorney in Boston

High school senior says: "It's frustrating that people are able to obtain their opportunities this way. We can put in work from fifth grade to 12th grade, every single day, come in early, leave late and it's still not enough. . . . You work every day, they still find a way." – Khiana Jackson, 17, of Kansas City, Mo.

Editorial says: "This is infuriating for parents and students who chose to play by the rules in seeking college admission — or had no choice but to do so." – The New York Times

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2019
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