With the outstanding student debt at a staggering $1.5 trillion in the United States — the college admissions scam uncovered by ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ of the FBI has rocked the country.
Hollywood actresses, CEOs, prominent college athletics coaches are among the 50 people accused.
On March 12, the US Department of Justice announced charges in what it dubbed as the “largest” US college admissions scandal ever to be prosecuted.
The accused include 33 wealthy parents, who paid hefty amounts to a fake charity foundation to get their children admitted into elite universities — such as Yale and Stanford — through rigging of standardised entrance tests (the SAT and the ACT) and bribing of coaches to designate their children as recruited athletes.
These parents were clients of William Singer, who ran the cheating scheme through his Key Worldwide Foundation, registered as a charity organisation that ran a college prep company.
According to reports, parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test and millions to bribe the athletics coaches. Prosecutors say Singer received up to $25 million from parents in order to bribe coaches and university administrators. This scheme run by Singer has been ongoing since 2011.
The varsities involved in the conspiracy include Yale University, Stanford University, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, the University of Texas, and Wake Forest University, among others.
At least two class-action lawsuits have been filed by different college students against these universities seeking unspecified punitive damages, with one of them being the return of the college application fees (that go up to $90 for some universities like Stanford) to applicants between 2012 and 2018, as they were denied a fair admission consideration process.
The fallout of the scandal has had wide ramifications, besides the outrage expressed by American youth on social media platforms, such as French multinational corporate beauty chain Sephora cutting off ties with 19-year-old Olivia Jade, the daughter of actress Lori Loughlin, who is one of the two actresses indicted in the scam. Loughlin, who paid $500,000 in bribes to get her two daughters admitted into University of Southern California, was also dropped by Hallmark Channel, for instance. It is understandable why corporates are worried about the impact on their public image through associating with the accused in the scam.
In the US, a student who does not come from a millionaire family cannot dream of going to college without taking a loan.
Since US president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s dismantled the public higher education system in the US, cutting the federal budget for education by half, college education became increasingly unaffordable for the vast majority of aspiring students.
Since then, the student debt crisis has worsened to reach the present juncture — at $1.5 trillion, the total student loans outstanding are higher than even the country’s total credit-card debt and auto loans.
Studying at an elite private American university like Harvard, Stanford or Yale for a four-year undergraduate degree “costs more than a quarter million dollars, including tuition, lodging, and books,” as this article in Quartz says.
Two-thirds of college students who graduated in 2017 have to pay back student loans.
In fact, the worsening student debt crisis was the primary plank on which social democratic leader Bernie Sanders of the Democratic Party had garnered massive support of US college students and other youth before the 2016 elections.
This particular scam has left the US youth questioning the idea of ‘meritocracy’, as many have been expressing on the internet — a myth peddled and pushed by the US education system, and indeed by capitalism, to justify the country’s inequality, the highest among advanced Western capitalist countries.
But the fact is, college admissions in the US have been rigged to favour the rich for a long time—as even other than the prohibitive fees, there are official mechanisms such as millions of dollars paid by the wealthiest parents as ‘donations’, which are not called bribes. These donations are accepted by top varsities in the name of “institutional advancement”, etc.
A recent infamous example of this is the case of Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and senior aide of US President Donald Trump. Kushner’s father, real estate businessman Charles Kushner, paid a $2.5 million as donation to Harvard University to get his son accepted, despite a poor academic record.
So much for meritocracy.
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