The FBI recently indicted dozens of people, including Hollywood celebrities, for submitting grossly fraudulent University applications. In a nutshell, many parents were spending exorbitant amounts of money to hire an individual who put together fake information (this really was an example of “fake news”!) about their children to get them into prestigious Universities like Yale, Georgetown and USC.
These fake (or grotesquely embellished) profiles and bribes (of University coaches, etc.) helped the children of these parents get into academic institutions that they never otherwise would have been able to do.
As the FBI noted, admission into these prestigious Universities involved a “zero sum game” – for every student who gained admission with a fake/falsely embellished application, a legitimate and deserving student was denied. This problem appears to be a widespread one involving more than a few bad apples. Make no mistake about it, the fake profiles that were created involved much more than a little puffery on an application: it involved flat-out lies about academic achievement, athletic prowess and accomplishments, and more.
Also, this recent scandal should not be confused with the decades-old practice of Universities sometimes offering admission to children of large donors to the University. While some may question that practice as well (although the number of spots designated for that type of thing is likely to be quite small at most Universities), that practice does not involve fraud. Softening the rules a bit (or even a lot) for the offspring of a major donor is a conscious and informed decision by a University. The current academic scandal involves fraudulently duping the Universities themselves.
In some ways, the most astounding thing is how the Universities were fooled by all of this. We will see how this current scandal shakes out over time, but it is quite a shocker.
For the vast majority of students who submit legitimate applications, there is a potential upside to the scandal. Universities almost certainly will need to take more care in evaluating applications, provide additional safeguards and/or adding a system of “checks and balances” to prevent (or limit) the instances of this type of academic chicanery in the future. In theory, that should mean more spaces become available for the legitimate students submitting truthful applications. Of course, we don’t know the full extent of the problem, so it’s hard to say how dramatic the impact will be. But even a few more openings for legitimate, hard-working and talented students at these coveted institutions helps!