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Shocked That College Admissions Are Unfair? Don’t Be.

You’re shocked to learn that wealthy parents allegedly paid bribes to get their children into elite colleges? Really? You shouldn’t be.

Wealthy parents have been paying big bucks — perfectly legally — to get their children accepted into prestigious colleges for decades. The family makes a huge donation, and suddenly the kid who seemed headed for State U. is bound for the Ivy League. The shocking thing is that nobody seems to care.

If a couple of black or Latino kids get into Harvard or Yale through an affirmative action policy that allows for admission with slightly lower test scores, well, that’s fodder for outrage, fuel for several Fox News shows, the preamble for a lawsuit.

But the longstanding practice of allowing the less-qualified children of graduates to get into elite colleges — known as “legacy” — barely stirs interest, much less headlines. And even wealthy moms and dads who didn’t graduate from Stanford or Harvard or Princeton can pony up a substantial donation to prop the doors open for their kids, as Daniel Golden outlined in his well-researched 2006 book, The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department disclosed a sweeping college admissions scandal in which the wealthy, including well-known Hollywood actors, allegedly could not be bothered to follow the legal purchase-a-place-for-your-child practices already established at so many prestigious institutions. Instead, reports say, working with corrupt coaches and entrance exam officials, they lied outright — claiming a child was a championship rower, for example — or paid for fraudulent test scores, according to federal prosecutors. If that’s true, it lays bare a system of college admissions that is corrupt at its core.

Americans are deeply invested in the idea of meritocracy, the idealistic notion that people fail or succeed on their own merits. But for most of the history of this country, Americans of color were denied the opportunity to succeed — no matter how much grit, gumption and determination they demonstrated. And an economy that increasingly favors those who are already advantaged is now closing off opportunity to less-affluent whites, too. In other words, the myth of meritocracy is largely that: a myth.

Education, of course, is supposed to be the great equalizer, a path that will advance the masses. While many prestigious colleges remained the playgrounds of wealthy WASPs through the first half of the 20th century, the increasing use of standardized college entrance exams helped to change that in the latter half. High-achieving students from middle-class families — the sons and daughters of teachers, nurses and small business owners — were admitted. That cemented the myth of meritocracy, but it hardly made college admissions fair.

For centuries, black and brown people were denied the right to a decent education and were barred from entry into many of those elite schools. We could not give our children the advantage of basic academics, much less legacy. Black and brown children started off with educational deficits that made stellar test scores far less likely. Even now, many children of color are stuck in failing schools.

Affirmative action policies — which don’t admit unqualified students but do admit those with slightly lower test scores — were put in place to redress those longstanding disadvantages. But those policies provoke widespread condemnation. Universities across the country have been subjected to lawsuits seeking to end affirmative action in college admissions.

The practice of legacy admissions, however, has not prompted that sort of backlash. Nor has the practice of just giving an elite school a huge donation, the sort of legal bribe that probably helped Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, get into Harvard University, according to Golden’s book. He quoted a former official at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, Kushner’s tony high school, who said, “There was no way anybody … thought [Kushner] would on the merits get into Harvard. His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it.” But Kushner’s wealthy father pledged $2.5 million to the school, and he was admitted.

It seems that less-affluent children of color aren’t smart enough to be admitted to prestigious institutions of higher education. They didn’t have sense enough to be born rich.

Rigged College Admissions: Just One Aspect Of Rampant Social Inequity

The children of working stiffs learned a brutal lesson this week as federal prosecutors criminally charged rich people with buying admission to elite universities for their less-than-stellar children.

The lesson is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how smart or talented you are, a dumb, lazy rich kid is going to beat you.

It’s crucial that everyone who is not a wealthy movie star, hedge fund executive, or corporate CEO—that is, 99 percent of all Americans—sees this college admissions scandal for what it really is: a microcosm of the larger, corrupt system that works against working people, squashing their chances for advancement.

This system is the reason that rich people and corporations got massive tax breaks last year while the 99 percent got paltry ones. It is the reason the federal minimum wage and the overtime threshold are stuck at poverty levels. It is the reason labor unions have dwindled over the past four decades.

This system is the reason we cannot have nice things. Despite all that land-of-equal-opportunity crap, the rich ensure that only they can have nice things, starting with what they can buy legally and illegally for their children and rising through what they can buy legally and illegally from politicians who make the rules that withdraw money from the pockets of working people and deposit it into the bulging bank accounts of the fabulously rich.

When the mastermind of the elite university admissions scheme, William Singer, pleaded guilty this week, he exposed the launching pad available to the well-heeled to guarantee that their children will be well-heeled. Even after the wealthy pay for their heirs to attend prohibitively expensive private preparatory academies, their grades, test scores and extracurricular activities may not add up to enough to gain them entrance to Ivy League universities, from which a degree virtually assures an overpaid position on Wall Street, and with it, another generation of wealth accumulation.

Singer admitted he developed a work-around for the wealthy. The indictment revealed that, through Singer, parents handed between $15,000 and $75,000 to college entrance exam administrators to fabricate top-notch test scores for low-achieving offspring.

That lower amount—$15,000—paid by the rich to pad SAT and ACT scores is a good example. It’s a figure of trifling import to a one-percenter. It is, however, the entire year’s earnings of a parent working full-time at the federal $7.25 minimum wage. That parent may have a child who received a perfect SAT score—without cheating—who has earned straight As, even in advanced placement classes, who excelled in soccer and served as class president. But that child of a minimum-wage worker won’t get into Harvard because the rich kid took his place with falsified test scores and faked athletic achievements.

And the rich kid and his parents have the means to ensure that members of the next generation of the family have the same opportunity to cheat their way into a top college. They have the money to buy just the right politicians, something that the perverse Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court facilitated. The right-wing court ruled that rich people and corporations could give unlimited money to elect politicians of their choice.

Politicians chosen by the wealthy won’t support labor unions, minimum wage increases or higher overtime thresholds. They won’t cultivate opportunity for the 99 percent. They won’t require corporations to treat workers as humans with dignity.

Politicians chosen by the rich have passed legislation in state after state intended to bankrupt labor unions, the very organizations that were so crucial to creating the middle class in America. Under the legislation, labor unions are forbidden to collect small fees from people who choose not to join. This weakens unions because they are required by federal regulations to provide services for all those who labor in a unionized workplace, whether they join the union or not. So what these politicians are doing is requiring unions to represent nonmembers for free. It has devastated labor organizations in some places, including Wisconsin. The result is lower wages and worse benefits for all workers because higher union-bargained pay pulls up all incomes in a region.

The logic here is simple: less for workers, more for fat cats.

And, of course, politicians chosen by rich people will not raise the minimum wage. The federal minimum has remained at a painfully low $7.25 for a decade. Now, it’s a poverty wage. It means a person who works full-time cannot support himself, and certainly can’t provide for a family. In Washington, D.C., and other expensive cities, some full-time minimum-wage workers are homeless. The substandard minimum wage pulls down all wages.

Similarly, politicians chosen by the rich will not significantly increase the $23,660 overtime threshold under which all workers must be paid time-and-a-half for hours beyond 40 in a week. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, now chair of the Democratic National Committee, proposed in 2016 doubling the threshold to $47,476, which would have enabled an additional 4 million workers to qualify for overtime pay.

Often these are workers given fancy titles like assistant night manager and paid $24,000 a year so that their fast-food restaurant bosses can require them to work 50, 60, even 70 hours a week for no extra pay at all.

For these families, the overtime pay would be extremely meaningful—in ways that are incomprehensible to families that can dish out $15,000 to $75,000 to cheat on the SAT.

Fast-food corporations, including CKE, owner of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, opposed the proposed overtime threshold increase. The CEO of CKE at the time, Andrew F. Puzder, worth $45 million, wrote an essay condemning the increase and explaining how millions of low-paid workers with fancy titles should love to work extra time without extra pay because it gave all of them the opportunity to work their way to the top like one guy at CKE did one time.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobby group for rich corporations, filed suit against the increase and scuttled it. So now it hasn’t increased in 15 years.

A new labor secretary last week offered a much stingier increase. Alexander Acosta proposed $35,308 as the threshold. Only about 1 million additional workers would benefit if the number were that low. And instead of automatic increases every three years, the Labor Department would consider whether to raise it only every four years, no guarantees.

This is not good policy for working people. It is, however, great policy for rich people, who, as a result, keep more of the profits produced by the labor of underpaid people.

It means continuing the cycle of one percent staying rich and 99 percent denied opportunity. And that means the wealthy can continue to bribe university officials to admit their unqualified scion.

There’s no reason to take heart from the fact that prosecutors stymied one specific college admission scam. It is illegal to pay an SAT proctor to alter test scores. It is not illegal, though, to buy a science lab for Harvard or a humanities building for Yale with the hope that the family name prominently engraved on the edifice will sway admission officers when they see the same moniker on a college application.

It’s no shock college admissions are rigged for the rich. The whole economic system is rigged by the rich. Until working people change that, their opportunities and those of their children will continue to diminish.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Danziger: The Best Money Can Buy

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

How College Admissions Are Tilted To Favor The Rich

My 2006 book, The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, was intended as a work of investigative journalism.

But many of its more affluent readers embraced it as a “how to” guide. For years afterward, they inundated me with questions like, “How much do I have to donate to get my son (or daughter) into Harvard (or Yale, or Stanford)?” Some even offered me significant sums, which I declined, to serve as an admissions consultant.

They may have been motivated by a tale I told in the book about a youth whose admission to Harvard appears to have been cemented by a $2.5 million pledge from his wealthy developer father. The then-obscure Harvardian would later vault to prominence in public life; his name was Jared Kushner.

Those requests from people who misunderstood my aim in writing the book came back to mind on Tuesday when I heard about the latest and most brazen scandal involving upper-crust parents — including chief executives, real estate investors, a fashion designer and two prominent actresses — manipulating college admissions.

One would think that the rich and famous would care less than the rest of us about foisting their children on elite colleges. After all, their kids are likely to be financially secure no matter where, or if, they go to college. Yet they seem even more desperate — to the extent, according to a complaint, that dozens of well-heeled parents ponied up six or seven figures for bogus SAT scores and athletic profiles for their children to increase their chances at Yale, Stanford and other brand-name universities.

The parents allegedly paid anywhere between $200,000 and $6.5 million to William Rick Singer, who ran a college counseling business in Newport Beach, California. Singer in turn bribed standardized test administrators and college coaches in upper-class sports like crew, sailing and water polo, even staging photos of the applicants playing various sports, prosecutors said.

The parents “chose to corrupt and illegally manipulate the system,” Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said at a press conference Tuesday. “There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy.”

Perhaps these parents were pining to boast at Hollywood cocktail parties about their Ivy League imprimatur. Possibly their offspring, like those of many successful families, lacked the motivation to strive and excel academically, and without a substantial boost would have been consigned to colleges of lesser repute.

In any event, such allegedly criminal tactics represent the logical, if extreme, outgrowth of practices that have long been prevalent under the surface of college admissions, and that undermine the American credos of upward mobility and equal opportunity. Although top college administrators and admissions officials were apparently unaware of the deception, their institutions do bear some responsibility for developing and perpetuating the system that made it possible.

I began looking into this issue in 2003, at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the fairness of affirmative action for minorities. I documented another form of affirmative action — for the white and privileged.

According to one poll after another, most Americans believe that college admissions should be based on merit, rather than wealth or lineage. Through their own intelligence and hard work, students with the best grades, the highest test scores, the most compelling recommendations and other hard-earned credentials achieve a coveted ticket to higher education — and with it, enhanced prospects for career success and social status. So goes the legend perpetuated by elite colleges, anyway.

But decades of investigating college admissions have led me to conclude that, for rich and famous families, it’s more like a television game show, “Who Wants to Be an Ivy Leaguer?” complete with lifelines for those who might otherwise be rejected. Instead of phoning a friend or asking the audience, the wealthy benefit from advantages largely unavailable to middle-class and poor Americans — what I described in my book as “the preferences of privilege.”

The best-known and most widespread of those preferences is conferred on alumni children, known as “legacies,” who tend as a group to be disproportionately white and well-off. But rich applicants whose parents didn’t attend the target university, like Kushner, still have a leg up.

Rich candidates can enhance their standardized test scores with test-prep and tutoring. They don’t have to rely for college recommendations and advice on an overburdened public high school guidance counselor with a caseload of hundreds of students. Instead, their parents can afford a private counselor who discreetly advises the desired university that the family has a history of philanthropy and, in case of acceptance, would be inclined to be especially generous.

Similarly, inner-city schools often don’t field teams in patrician sports like crew, squash, fencing and the like. But prep and suburban schools do, giving their affluent students an opportunity for the significant edge given to recruited athletes, even in upper-class sports limited to a relative few. Colleges favor recruits in these sports at least partly for fundraising reasons; they’re important to wealthy alumni and donors who played them in college or enjoy them as leisure activities.

So the parents charged in the current case followed customary practices of the entitled: hiring a private counselor, getting test help and participating in a patrician sport. The difference is that they allegedly took blatant short cuts: The counselor was unscrupulous, a stand-in secretly took the tests and the applicants didn’t actually play those sports. But, without the tilted system of preferences already in place, the parents would have had to choose a different route — or actually let merit determine their children’s college destiny.

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