There is no evidence that New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bribed her way into college or cheated on the SAT. By all accounts, Boston University admitted the freshman congresswoman on her own merits, which distinguishes her from the children of wealthy parents arrested on Tuesday for paying over $25 million to cheat their kids’ way into colleges across the country.
Harvard professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz called the enterprise “the worst scandal involving elite universities in the history of the United States.” Unfortunately, admissions fraud is the least of the nation’s academic problems – a symptom, rather than the cause, of the degradation of American higher education.
What unknown fact does the scandal expose? Wealthy parents have long relied on a properly timed donation to improve their children’s chances at admission to college. And it isn’t just the wealthy who play the system to gain an advantage. Legacies, athletes, and favored racial minorities all receive preferential treatment from admissions committees to the exclusion of academically better-qualified students.
American universities have never considered academic merit the sole criterion for admittance. The parents caught up in Tuesday’s sting simply exploited this reality to a criminal extreme. An even more troubling question is not how the deficient students matriculated but how they graduated.
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