On 12 March 2019, the Justice Department of the United States accused 50 people across six states of having taken part in a major college admission scandal. Fifty parents were charged for their involvement in a bribery and cheating scheme to get their unqualified children into top colleges of the US, a number of people who have been alleged to be a part of this conspiracy have pled guilty or agreed to plead guilty. The investigation into this morally depraved end-run on the system of admissions to higher education is called Operation Varsity Blues.
William Rick Singer, the organizer of this scandal scheme, took about $25 million from 33 accused parents of college applicants from 2011 and 2018, a part of which he used to fraudulently inflate entrance exam test scores and bribe college officials. William Singer controlled two firms involved in the scheme, Key Worldwide Foundation, and The Edge College & Career Network. This entire scandal is another bitter reminder of the ‘advantages’ the wealthy have and throw in everyone else’s faces. All done at the expense of deserving students and families of lesser means competing for the same seats, these unscrupulous conscious decisions made by the rich parents reeked of the problem of social and educational inequality. Each of these parents was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and one count of honest services mail fraud. From false sports quotas to faking a disability, from Hollywood actresses to business leaders and even elite college coaches have tried it all to secure an unlawful seat in 11 universities.
Unfortunately, their children will bear the brunt of their poor and illegal decisions to scam and distort a system constantly professing its commitment to equality and educational opportunity. Apart from the consequences, their children will face, the parents are charged with a maximum term of 20 years in prison, supervised the release of three years, and a $ 2,50,000 – $ 5,00,000 fine. Also, top college athletic coaches, who were accused of accepting millions of dollars to help admit undeserving students to a wide variety of colleges, from the University of Texas at Austin to Wake Forest and Georgetown landed into trouble by suggesting they were top athletes. The charges also underscored how college admissions have become so cutthroat and competitive that some have sought to break the rules.
“The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” said Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts at a news conference, also stating “The real victims, in this case, are the hardworking students” who were displaced in the admissions process by “far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in”.
The FBI alleged that this scandal had started in 2011 though the authorities became aware of the scheme around April 2018 when Los Angeles businessman Morrie Tobin, who was under investigation in an unrelated case for alleged for another conspiracy and securities fraud, offered information in exchange for leniency in the previously existing, unrelated case. An alumnus of Yale University, he told the authorities that the Yale women’s soccer head coach, Rudolph Meredith, had asked him for $450,000 in exchange for helping his youngest daughter get admission to the school. As part of his cooperation with the FBI, Tobin wore a recording device while talking to Meredith in a Boston hotel on April 12, 2018; Meredith subsequently agreed to cooperate with the authorities and led them to Singer. Meredith pled guilty as part of his cooperation with the prosecution, Singer after pleading guilty to the FBI for unethically facilitating college admissions for children in more than 750 families, faces up to 65 years in prison, and a fine of $1.25 million, whereas Tobin wasn’t charged for this scheme, he pled guilty in the securities scheme he was originally accused of. On March 12, 2019, federal prosecutors in Boston unsealed a criminal complaint charging 50 people with conspiracy to commit felony mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 1349. The charges were announced by Andrew Lelling, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. FBI special agent Laura Smith signed the 204-page affidavit in support of the charges.
Involving so many top universities in the US, the impact was not limited to the US itself, apart from affecting the number of capable candidates whose seats were replaced by ones with pants full of money, it had huge international implications. The United States has been the largest recruiter of international students in the world, in fact, it is home to over one million of the 4.6 million international students worldwide coming from every continent, representing over 230 countries. Yet not enough attention is being paid to the fact that international students bring immeasurable academic, cultural, and economic value to U.S. campuses. Talking of their economy, too few people realize that education is a vital part of the American economy, especially because of the income America earns from international students. This “service export” contributed almost $40 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2017-2018 academic year alone and created over 455,000 jobs. Not only is the revenue from international student enrollments used to create jobs, but it also backs the growth and development of U.S. educational institutions and subsidize the cost of domestic student enrollment.
Unfortunately, international student enrollment in American colleges is declining. According to a Council of Graduate Schools survey of more than 240 institutions, international graduate student applications fell by four percent between the fall of 2017 and the fall of 2018. While the total number of international students in the U.S. grew last year to a total of over 1 million, new student enrollment declined by over six percent over the same period.
Corruption at U.S. educational institutions may factor into future foreign student choices about coming here.
With an expected continuous increase of only 0.2% over the next nine years in the American college-aged population, international students are essential to keeping class sizes and revenue up. Failure to promote international student enrollment may result in budget cuts that could eliminate programs or downsize overall student enrollment, including domestic enrollment. policymakers need to prioritize marketing the U.S. as a welcoming study destination for international students, and removing impediments in the way, or risk losing America’s hard-earned reputation as a world leader in education. Getting to the bottom of the corruption scandal is another element that needs to be addressed so as to reassure foreign students of their eligibility and the value of American education.
One of such cases was of Lori Loughlin and her daughters Isabella Giannulli and Olivia Giannulli. Olivia Jade Giannulli, a first-year student at USC who is also a popular influencer and YouTuber with millions of subscribers, after the accusation has “no plans to return to USC,”. “She can’t handle anything right now. She seems more and more upset every day. She just wants to stay home,” a source said. Giannulli’s parents allegedly bribed USC athletics officials to designate their daughter as a recruited rower despite Giannulli never having participated in crew competitively. Her older sister, Isabella, was admitted the same way, according to prosecutors, though there isn’t any news on whether Isabella will be returning to USC or not. Mother, Lori Loughlin, who was a long-time regular in the drama series ‘When Calls the Heart’, was released on a $1 million bail, the Hallmark channel’s parent company Crowd Media openly stated that it had no intentions to work anymore with the actress. As for Olivia’s career, major beauty brands, including Sephora and Estée Lauder have said they will no longer be working with her, and HP, for which she had formerly done an ad on their printers has also said it no longer has a business to do with her. After an the investigation, USC found six students who had applied this year who were associated with the college-admissions scheme.
Though Lori did not plead herself guilty, Actress Felicity Huffman, known for her role in Desperate Housewives, broke down in tears in federal court in Boston, as she pleaded guilty to a scheme to boost her daughter’s SAT scores.
She also paid $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s wrong answers after her daughter completed the test. The person making the corrections has also pleaded guilty, while the exam proctor who allegedly allowed it to happen, has pleaded not guilty.
Another parent who pleaded guilty was, Los Angeles businessman Devin Sloane, who is likely to serve a longer sentence. He paid $250,000 in bribes, disguised as charitable donations, to get his son recruited to the University of Southern California water polo team, even though his son was never a competitive player. Sloane bought water polo gear on Amazon, including a ball and a cap, apparently for the student to wear during a photoshoot that would later be doctored to make it appear that he was in the water during a game.
Stanford announced it rescinded the admission of an anonymous female student admitted via the college admissions scheme. Her application included faked sailing records, the Stanford Daily reports, and a $500,000 donation to the university’s sailing program. The head sailing coach, John Vandemoer, was fired after pleading guilty to accepting such donations. Wake Forest University said it has put head volleyball coach Bill Ferguson on leave. Ferguson faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
The University of Texas at Austin said it dismissed men’s tennis coach Michael Center a day after placing him on leave. Center is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Georgetown University said it was “deeply disappointed” to learn former tennis coach Gordon Ernst is charged in the scheme, but said Ernst “has not coached our tennis team since Dec. 2017, following an internal investigation that found he had violated University rules concerning admissions.”
The case is the largest of its kind to be prosecuted by the US Justice Department, named after the 1999 film Varsity Blues, Operation Varsity Blues; Rich, privileged people trying to cheat their way through the system, complete with over-the-top efforts to conceal their alleged actions from their children and a dash of celebrity to boot- the perfect script for a movie. Hopefully now these elitist group of people who earlier believed they could cheat their way into greater facilities and opportunities will think twice before crossing the law and destroying the lives of their children along with their own, understanding that just throwing bucks cannot improve their children’s education, in such a scandalous case, ironically ruin it.
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A free spirited individual in her second year, pursuing Bcom.(Hons) from Shri Ram College of Commerce, she is an extrovert who loves learning more and more from everything around her, fueling her motivation to do more to be a better person with every passing day. A classical dancer since the age of 4, a music lover and most importantly someone who is passionate about helping others and creating a positive impact on the society.