What the College Admissions Scandal Actually Reveals

Everyone has a take on the new college admissions scandal that is unfolding across our news feeds these days.  Here are some of my thoughts –

First, it appalls me that people of great means could go to such great depths in order to secure something for their children that should be earned with hard work.  College is meant to develop character, knowledge, and prepare a person for a life of achievement.  Instead, these parents were teaching their children that cheating and short-cuts are the path to achievement.

Second, this scandal really speaks to the notion of power.

We’ve all heard the statement by British Lord Acton. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I believe that the words of renowned biographer Robert Caro are more accurate.  He said, “Power doesn’t always corrupt. Power always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the guy always wanted to do.”

I believe the admissions scandal REVEALS the value system and beliefs about university education that millions of Americans adhere to, but don’t have the financial means or simple audacity to act on.

Mike Rowe, beloved television personality for his series promoting “Dirty Jobs”, shared his own commentary about the scandal on Facebook.  You can read the full post here.

Here’s a hard-hitting excerpt from the post.

You don’t have to be rich or famous to believe your kid is doomed to fail without a four-year degree. Millions of otherwise sensible parents in every tax-bracket share this misguided belief, and many will do whatever it takes to get their kids enrolled in a “good school.” Obviously, those who resort to bribery are in a class by themselves, but what about parents who allow their kids to borrow vast sums of money to attend universities they can’t possibly afford? What about the guidance counselors and teachers who pressure kids to apply for college regardless of the cost? What about the politicians and lobbyists who so transparently favor one form of education at the expense of all the others? What about the employers who won’t even interview a candidate who doesn’t have a degree? Where’s the outrage?

Most middle class and upper-class Americans have a belief system about higher education that is driving individual and system decisions from top to bottom.

The belief system goes like this:

IF you get good grades, and IF you take the right university-favored high school courses, and IF you do the right extra-curriculars, and IF you skillfully play the admissions game; THEN you will get into a good college or university, and THEN you will get a good education, and THEN you will figure out a meaningful career path, and THEN you will have a happy, successful life.

Or as an Algorithm—

(Good Grades) + (AP and honors courses) + (extra-curriculars) + (college-applications) = Admissions > good education > good career path > happy life > for ALL young Americans.

If you don’t follow this prescribed algorithm, then all bets are off.

Of course, readers of this blog and observers of the actual evidence about American college student achievement know this formula doesn’t actually work for about half of the students who pursue college.

The story we tell ourselves is so insidious however because it is largely unspoken.  It’s what most well-meaning, high achieving parents believe, but they’re often not even conscience of what a strong belief system they hold.  However, power reveals and the admission scandal has revealed what many people might do under the right circumstances and under the illusion that money and power can insulate us from the consequences of our actions.

Let’s use this scandal to call attention to the false premise on which it is based.  Let’s respect and honor the love parents have for their children, but also raise the red flag that the “EQUATION” doesn’t actually add up the way it is currently formulated.

Hans Meeder is President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com).  NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education 

One thought on “What the College Admissions Scandal Actually Reveals

  1. Natalie Dunn says:

    Love that you placed academic rigor such as IB or AP in your formula. Have you watched Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas — this season he is focused on the education system.

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