Greed – Understanding the Higher Education Scandal

How best to respond to the SAT question describing those students and parents ensnared in the admissions scandal rocking U.S. higher education? A. Wealthy and entitled? B. Frustrated and locked out? C. Guilty of committing a felony? Most likely, D. “All of the Above”.

When the priority in American education shifts toward making money rather than educating our nation’s children and citizens, the door opens wide for corruption and ill-gotten gains. While most are focused on the power of wealth and the absence of fairness in the admissions process, understanding the evolution of advanced education in America offers a glimpse as to how we have arrived at this scandalous inflection point.

Since the 1800s, the Ivy League has been educating the elite. Time has yet to alter the trappings of status, money, power, legacy, influence, and connections. Where the Yale’s have led, the Stanford’s have followed. Today, both boast endowments of more than $25 billion. The need to “profit” rather than educate is the new status quo in American higher ed. Although most institutions still maintain their tax-exempt status, the focus on educating to further the domestic common goals of economic growth and democracy have been replaced with the hot pursuit of fattening endowments, growing administrations, and cutting-edge facilities.

U.S. higher education has become one of our nation’s largest “exports”; selling education to foreigners. With unencumbered access and opportunity, foreign students are being educated and employed in the U.S. in numbers unseen in our nation’s history. In 1950, America educated fewer than 25,000 foreign students in total. The U.S. has doled out more than 2 million F1 visas in the last few years, with more than 1 million Chinese students, alone, studying in the U.S. today.

Established in 1990, and expanded in 2008, under OPT (Optional Practical Training) foreign students on F1 visas, can work full time – tax free – while enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. OPT offers the added bonus of providing employers a 15% tax break in hiring foreign students in place of Americans. With no limit or restrictions, OPT is now larger than the H1B visa program.

Shockingly, according to U.S. News & World Reports, for those foreign students studying in America not being reimbursed by their governments, the grass is still greener with American colleges striving for “diversity”, paying them to take premium slots at our best colleges by offering scholarships. In 2016, alone, Yale and Stanford, the two Ivy league universities named in the current FBI investigation, provided 524 foreign students with a total of more than $31 million in scholarship monies to attend their universities (Billions Lost, page. 140).

The burden of higher-ed greed has fallen squarely on American families. Today our nation’s citizens hold over $1.5 trillion in student debt. Most American children do not receive scholarships, and even if they wanted to, are typically not wealthy enough to pay a bribe to gain admittance for their child to attend a choice university. The parents most un-nerved by the “unfairness” of the current scandal are those who have either spent years paying taxes in their home state to see their own children turned away from schools like UCLA, or parents who have put in the time and money to create children worthy of admittance to these fine U.S. institutions only to have them receive rejection after rejection.

Today’s moneyed American parents believe the path to college admissions rests on one if not multiple routes, including: 1. Donating millions of dollars to their alma mater to gain admittance for their offspring; 2. Spending thousands of hours and dollars preparing children to score successfully on a standardized test; 3. Enduring hours of travel and significant expense to avail their children of the best coaching or music instruction. In the end, it is clear that money is the ultimate determinant in today’s college admissions.

Lacking, is the idea that standardized test taking is the great equalizer. In fact, both foreigners and the wealthy pour every resource they have into mastering techniques to score well on standardized tests. Further, U.S. education has abandoned important, experiential learning to instead drive better test taking results and teach to the test.

The result? Today’s American teachers and children lose out on the rich educational foundation that drove our country’s historical success, replaced, instead, by multi-million dollar college admissions industry.

According to Billions Lost, in 2013, international students accounted for 39% of all Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) PhDs. Between the rise in foreign student acceptance and the seemingly disproportionate number of slots set aside for college athletes, how does a regular kid get a break? In an effort to avoid public scrutiny, media backlash, affirmative action lawsuits, elite universities now seem to be set on creating a Teflon arbitrary diversity mix with each incoming Freshman class rather than simply accepting the best and brightest each year.

The expense and stress over U.S. college admissions has forever changed the landscape of America’s college campuses. The positive changes circle around the literal “sobering” of American higher ed where students who have worked so hard to gain admittance stay focused on studying rather than partying. Taking parental and peer pressure for achievement to the extreme, the downside of the intense focus on “making the grade” and “return on the educational investment” has meant Aderall abuse by many students and sadly, suicide, by others.

The unique, obscure, and sometimes perplexing admissions process, tarnished by this recent scandal, for all its failings, is still, by every measure, the best in the world. U.S. higher ed, however, is no longer the domestic enabler of its inception, but serves as the global educator of the wealthy and entitled.

Free choice reigns supreme in the U.S. higher education system even as the rise in applicants and evident corruption reduces the fairness quotient across the board. Greed has transformed colleges and universities into money-making machines, making them vulnerable and exploitable.

With profits continuing to drive the American college admissions process, is it any wonder that the wealthy “Aunt Becky’s” of the world take desperate measures to secure an admission for their kids?

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