Varsity Blues scandal – two years later
On March 17th Netflix released Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, a documentary about the bribery scandal from 2019.
It’s a powerful film that shows the ugly underbelly of what happened to the college admissions process. It features reporters, independent educational consultants and the sailing coach from Stanford who pleaded guilty. Since William “Rick ” Singer, the kingpin coordinator of the bribery scandal agreed to plead guilty and share information with law enforcement officials, the documentary has the original taped conversations between Singer and his unknowing clients.
The Netflix film takes a deep dive into the 2019 college admissions scandal, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” involving a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several prestigious American universities. The scandal led to more than 50 high-profile arrest, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The conspiracy was arranged by Singer, who claimed to be an educational consultant and used millions of dollars from wealthy parents of college applicants to fraudulently inflate entrance exam test scores as well as bribe college coaches and administrators.
The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), of which I’m a professional member, has been the leading voice in putting students first in the college admissions journey. commends its members for their continued commitment to the highest standards in ethical college advising, while at the same time calling for greater transparency in the college application process.
According to IECA, while the Varsity Blues scandal exposed the specific efforts of wealthy, privileged parents to ensure their children’s admission into the national’s top colleges, it brought to light broader problems in the college application process:
- Access to college advising in high school is unequal across the country, and particularly strained in urban and rural public high schools, where the average student-to-counselor ratio is 455:1 and more than 700:1 in some areas. This leaves school counselors overburdened and students under-resourced.
- Colleges have become increasingly opaque in their admission criteria.
- College acceptance rates continue to decline, partly due to the increase in applications, leading to heightened anxiety levels among students and parents
- Sophisticated modeling means computers play an outsized role in college admissions, minimizing the personal stories of students and admissions counselors
Lessons Learned, according to IECA
What have we learned over the last two years?
- there is an unjustified need that many families feel to attend a “name-brand” college
- there continues to be an unhealthy over-involvement of parents in the process
- there is a lack of clarity about how admissions offices decide who gets in, who gets wait-listed and who gets rejected
What changes have been implemented?
- This scandal has led to reforms in some admissions offices, including some colleges that now require more information and a closer scrutiny of athletic recruits
- There have also been reforms in athletic recruitment to guarantee a student admitted as an athlete deserves that designation.
What additional changes are needed?
- The focus must shift from thinking “it’s all about getting into the most exclusive school that will take me” to “finding the college that best fits my learning, social financial and community needs.”
- Colleges need to assure that multiple individuals are needed to sign-off on a special circustance admission.
- Colleges need to better explain how their admission process works and the type of students would be most successful at their school.
- Students and parents must look toward best fit rather than biggest name – it’s about getting OUT successfully, not about getting in!
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com
PS – TUNE IN TO HEAR MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC.
I WAS A GUEST ON NPR AFFILIATE WFAE (90.7 – WWW.WFAE.ORG) CHARLOTTE TALKS WITH MIKE COLLINS, ON THURSDAY 3/18 (9-10AM AND REBROADCAST 3/18 @ 9PM) WHERE I’M JOINED BY LIZ WILLEN OF THE HECHINGER REPORT TO DISCUSS EDUCATION EQUITY AND HOW COLLEGE ADMISSIONS HAVE BEEN IMPACTED BY THE OPERATION VARSITY BLUES SCANDAL AS WELL AS COVID.
If you can’t tune in live, it is rebroadcast every evening at 9pm and you can always go to www.wfae.org and listen on their archives.