You’ve probably already heard about the higher education scam where wealthy parents paid to cheat the system for their kids. In fact, you’ve probably heard so much about it that you’re both nauseated and bored with the details. Most people that I know aren’t shocked – this is just proof of what we all knew was happening.
Still, I wanted to peel apart how I’m feeling about it. And I do that best by writing.
No, really? I would never have guessed!
I’m just cynical enough that I’m not surprised. I’m more surprised that the FBI – with far more impactful and dangerous criminals to go after – chose to actually make this a thing. Which makes me wonder: whose kid didn’t make it into college that triggered this hunt?
What these parents did was appalling and horrifying, but let’s be honest: how many people would have tried this if they had enough money to pay for it? A few? Or perhaps, a lot? Probably a lot more than we care to admit, because we all want the best future for our kids and we all know the system is rigged anyway. Legacy admissions, anyone? If daddy can pay for a building with his name on it, you can totally bomb the SAT and still make it into an Ivy League college, no problem.
What’s the point?
This was seriously the final nail in the coffin of higher education for me. Why is higher education, specifically the “right” higher education, the only way up the ladder of success? Because it’s more about who you know than what you know?
I hate that. I reject that. And to be brutally honest, this kind of attitude mostly applies to the business side of degrees. Or politics. The hard sciences are less enticing to people who are only in it to make as much money as possible. Liberal arts – no one goes into liberal arts determined to be the next rock star artist and make a butt load of money. Certainly no one decides to become an English or History major for the high income potential.
The side effect of cheating
The thing that really makes me hopping mad about this whole story is the tiny blurb about using special needs to game the system. Fake, false, lied about special needs. Do they have ANY idea what that does to the next set of students who need accommodations? When they have to provide more documentation to prove disability, or are outright denied accommodations because “they’re faking it?”
And let’s talk about the other students. The ones who lost a spot because these unqualified students (many of whom were innocent too) were given access to something that others worked hard for? It’s not fair. That’s what’s burning everyone. It’s like the mother of all line jumping, with careers and lives at stake.
The root of the problem
The real problem with this entire story isn’t the cheating. The unfair advantage and outright lying. No, the real story here is how desperate parents feel to help their children succeed. Why is college the only ticket to success? Should it really be that important? Should kids have more options, more opportunities besides the default “go to college, get a good job, make lots of money” timeline?
I wonder how many of these kids feel trapped because of what their parents want. I know I would.
Being responsible and mature enough to pay your way is of course, the pinnacle of adulthood. I’m not arguing that. I’m saying that maybe we have the wrong focus. Maybe college isn’t the final say in a life of servitude for the honor of having a nice car and house?
Maybe, just maybe, we need other priorities. Different priorities. Maybe top-tier college should be out of reach, because it’s not something we want to reach for. Maybe our kids deserve better.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I will send my kids to college if that’s what they want. I can’t afford to give them a free ride, so we’ll talk long and hard about student debt and why the most expensive isn’t always the best. I’ll also support my kid if they want to go to trade school and be a plumber. Or an actor. (please no kiddo, please no!)
Great article! I read one yesterday written by a professor who has to teach these kids, and it’s pretty awful from the other end as well. My oldest, who I think would totally rock college, told me this weekend that what he wants to do with his life doesn’t require a college degree. On the one hand, that’s really weird to me. On the other, I’m sort of not surprised. He knows where and how to learn things he wants to learn without going to an institution (and paying them lots of money).