Headlines last week were full of the news that wealthy, privileged parents had engaged in bribery to gain admission for their children to colleges they otherwise would have had difficulty getting into. Among those indicted was Lori Loughlin, known to millions of Americans as Aunt Becky on Full House. While the reaction to the scandal expressed justifiable outrage that unqualified people could just buy their way into college, most overlooked the fact not only that this has always been the case, but also the fact that in many instances society supports the unqualified going to college.
As one article put it: “It is no less distressing, however, that the merits of some students were overridden by the wealth and privilege of students of lesser merit.” Yes, we would all hope that the college admissions process is a meritocracy so that those students with high test scores and good grades can go to college and avail themselves of the opportunity to continue their learning. But that isn’t the case and hasn’t been for a long time.
Many college admissions processes place just as much weight on extracurricular activities as they do on academic prowess. The student who excels at science and has a 4.0 GPA and 1600 SAT score but doesn’t play sports, music, or do anything outside the lab is seen as one-dimensional and may be passed over in favor of the 3.6 GPA, 1400 SAT score student who volunteers at three homeless shelters, founded a non-profit to help single mothers, and captains the tennis and basketball teams.
Or there’s what happens at many colleges, where the white student with the 3.6 GPS, 1400 SAT score, volunteering, non-profit founding, and sports captaining may be passed over in favor of the black student with a 3.2 GPA, 1100 SAT, and not much else. Yet many people bend over backwards in favor of affirmative action, believing that underprivileged minorities should get the chance to go to college. Or how about the case of athletes who may only have a 2.0 GPA and 800 SAT score but can bring in millions of dollars in revenue through the sports teams. Why are they allowed admission over those with higher academic scores? If it’s okay to pass over more qualified candidates in one case, why not in another?
Isn’t it ultimately up to colleges to decide who to admit and who not to admit? And is it really criminal to purchase admissions slots? If it’s understood that admissions slots are for sale, or that they’re not given to those who merit them, degrees from those schools should be discounted accordingly. And those from colleges who are solely merit-based should be appreciated accordingly. But no one should claim to be upset about favoritism in one area when they’re not opposed to favoritism in all areas.