College Admissions Scandal in USA
Reckoning has commenced. Authorities have pressed criminal charges against several key figures, including Huffman and Loughlin. Colleges and universities implicated in the scandal, along with other institutions witnessing the fallout, have engaged in intense self-examination with some issuing a mea culpa, while others express some degree of victimization.
Readers of my writings on Forbes have sought my opinion on the scandal. Having worked in higher education for more than 27 years, my approach to the story and its implications is nuanced. Experience has taught me that admissions at institutions of higher learning involve a complex confluence of factors, with academic achievement, talent, drive, and good citizenship all ranking highly.
Colleges and universities generally seek to enroll talented students who will succeed academically and contribute to the institutions’ educational ethos. To that end, admissions processes constitute painstaking considerations of academic metrics, such as grades and test scores, as well as more qualitative elements, including recommendations, personal narratives, and evidence of the applicants’ character and talents. Submissions by applicants must be complete, accurate, and in conformity with express instructions. Though not an exact science, these processes seek a complete “picture“ of the applicant, thereby ensuring assemblage of engaging student bodies that further the pedagogical mission of those institutions.
That those of wealth and privilege appear to have flagrantly breached admissions procedures at highly regarded institutions intensifies public anger. Their employment of fraud to gain admission for their children reveals the unfair advantage of privilege, and it prejudices the chances of deserving applicants who played by the rules.
Make no mistake, utilization of fraudulent means to gain admission into colleges and universities must be forthrightly addressed, with perpetrators bearing the requisite consequences. That said, and as admissions processes come under greater scrutiny, I caution against the utilization of this scandal as justification to rely exclusively on academic metrics to the exclusion of qualitative criteria.
Some believe that confining admissions processes to grades and test scores reduces unfairness and promotes objectivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Exclusive reliance on metrics benefits those with the means to procure assistance needed to garner better grades and scores. It also drives those desperate for admission to employ extreme measures that maximize these metrics. More strikingly, admissions focused solely on metrics becomes a zero-sum game that fails to recognize full potential and would ultimately lead to a monolithic student body that is anathema to academic vibrancy.
In my view, admissions processes must be fair, balanced, and, most important, holistic. Taking nothing from applicants with high grade point averages and test scores, I also recognize the worth of applicants with slightly lower metrics who also have exemplary attributes, skills, or experiences; for example, those who have served in the military, worked in some philanthropic enterprise, excelled artistically or athletically, or exhibited leadership potential. Note, too, that those with outstanding metrics alone do not always excel once admitted into college. Some in this category may have character or behavioral flaws that signal a lack of professionalism and good citizenship. By the same token, admitted students who may not have the highest metrics, yet who possess an indefatigable work ethic and strong character, could become academically successful.
Holistic admissions processes focus on metrics while paying close attention to qualitative information related to behavior and character. As a result, the probability of producing student bodies rich in potential and intellectual vibrancy increases exponentially.
Fallout from the recent admissions scandal will no doubt continue. The nation’s colleges and universities, while frantically reviewing their admissions practices, will incur greater public scrutiny. Privileged individuals caught in fraudulent schemes will suffer retribution, and institutions allegedly duped by their machinations will seek some measure of redress.
At the end of the day, I hope that colleges and universities remain cognizant of the unique role they play in society and the need to admit capable, talented, and universally diverse student bodies that will successfully navigate a complex market. Holistic admissions processes further this important goal and, commensurately, contribute to quality education in the 21st century.
Blake D. Morant