The Universal Notebook: College (cheating) admissions

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Rich people can bribe their kids’ ways into elite colleges? I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

Does this mean George W. Bush might not have gotten into Yale on his own merits? Did Fred Trump grease the skids for C-student Donnie at Fordham and Penn? I guess you don’t send a lawyer to your alma mater to bury your academic records because you were the brightest bulb on the tree.

Cheating is always wrong, but put me down as a cynic when it comes to all the furor surrounding movie stars cheating to get their kids into college. That’s just nouveau riche gaucheness. Old money is more discreet. Charles Kushner pledged $2.5 million to Harvard a couple of years before his son applied and everyone at his prep school was surprised when the not-particularly bright Jared was accepted. Not a bribe, see? A pledge.

Yes, doctoring test scores, having others take your SATs for you and paying coaches to use athletic chits on non-athletes are beyond the pale. But the first thing I thought when the college admission scam story broke was “Really? Doesn’t the FBI have anything more important to do?” At least investigate Trump’s and Kushner’s college admissions if you want to be relevant.

The horrible crime here is supposedly that every undeserving student who got into a college took the place of a deserving student. Baloney. By that standard, every student admitted on an athletic scholarship or as a legacy would constitute a crime.

Harvard could fill every class with nothing but valedictorians, but that would make it a pretty dull place. No one deserves to get into Harvard – or Stanford, USC, Georgetown or Yale. These private institutions can decide for themselves who they want to admit based on all sorts of criteria: academic, athletic, activist, geographic distribution, ethnic and economic diversity, gender, financial need.

The lament, “I worked hard and they cheated,” rings hollow to me. School is easy for a lot of bright kids, and many students who work very hard don’t get great grades. Still, it doesn’t take the FBI to figure out that kids from affluent families have always had an unfair advantage.

If you live in an affluent community, residents tend to be better educated and to support the schools; aspirations are higher; teachers better; competition keener, and more students can afford SAT prep courses, private counselors and tutors, year-round athletic coaching and trips abroad. The Ivy League and Little Ivy League colleges are full of bright young suburbanites who were Top 10 in their class, captained the soccer team and ski team, tutored inner-city kids and wrote their essay on what an awakening it was to see how the other half lives during spring vacation in Guatemala.

My sister-in-law teaches AP chemistry at one of the best public high schools in the country, a school so desirable that people move there from foreign countries just so their kids can attend. She and her students are under tremendous pressure to perform. To Type-A parents, only A’s will do and unless the kid gets into Harvard or MIT they are doomed to a life of failure. Think how that makes those of us who attended USM feel.

The main reason I am not all that concerned about college admission cheating is that you can get a good education anywhere if you apply yourself. It hardly matters these days where you do your undergraduate work. You need a graduate degree to get anywhere.

Unless, of course, your name is Kushner or Trump.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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