Beyond the revealing the scope and audacity, this year in college admissions reinforced something we at Cardinal Education always knew to be true: the opacity of the admissions process. As colleges become increasingly selective and students must compete even harder to gain admission to the nation’s top universities, admissions boards continue to use a byzantine system of smoke signals to select the upcoming year’s freshman class.
One would at least hope that a system borne of meritocracy and achievement could muster at least a modicum of resistant to fraudulent applicants.
As a result of the scandal and its aftermath, the University of California admissions sought to crack down on any breaches in its system. Submitted in June 2019, the internal audit reported that while the system held up to rigorous standards of fraud detection in most areas, there were several aspects that did not.
In a statement, Janet Napolitano announced, “UC is committed to a fair and transparent admissions process based on student merit and achievement – one that provides a fair and level playing field for every applicant. We take our zero tolerance policy extremely seriously – even one instance of admissions fraud is one too many.”
The report identified several areas for systematic improvement, including requiring increased documentation for the admissions of athletes, most directly a response to Ricker Singer’s bribe payments to the UCLA men’s soccer coach. This new verification system, once implemented, will at least eliminate such egregious instances of outright fraud as the ones mastermined by Singer.
A simple enough fix to the system, and one which clearly should have been in place already. Indeed, the audit found that their verification procedures in general were less than robust, and Napolitano et. al have vowed to tighten them as a result.
And still, rooting out these spectacularly fraudulent applications only solves a part of the problem. Just recently, an LA Times investigation revealed that at UCLA, at least 18 athletic recruits were children of coaches or administrators. As the investigation noted, while fundraising and legacy considerations have been forbidden for admission purposes since 1998, the athletic recruitment process is free from such restrictions, and as a result, is a fertiles grounds for systematic abuse.
While such reports should not be blown out of proportion, they continue to reveal that the despite institutions’ best efforts to tighten the system, side doors remain, and likely still will.
What has changed, however, is that we know live in the post-scandal admissions. Reforms are underway. The UC system and USC are leading the way, but they represent only a small portion of American universities. Perhaps they intend to be ahead of potentially stringent legislation that might take place with a turn of political fervor.
Earlier this year, California legislative halls rumbled with drastic new measures targeting the private college counseling industry, College Board tests, and athletic recruitment in particular. Most radically, one proposal would withhold Cal Grant funding for any college or university using preferential legacy admissions. While the UCs and State colleges already forbid this (in theory), California’s private universities rely on the Cal Grant program, and took umbrage to the very idea of any legislation that would curtail the funding. Indeed, many private universities (understandably) are keen to keep legacy preferences in place as an important functioning tradition within the institution.
No matter how it is viewed, traditional ideas of meritocracy often break down when filtered through the lens of college admissions. New legislation notwithstanding, this year’s events in the world of college admissions show us that while perfecting the system is perhaps an unattainable goal, a great deal of work remains to give every applicant a fair shot at our nation’s finest institutions of higher learning.