New Need for Oversight in the Wake of the College Admissions Scandal

The recent college admissions scandal involves dozens of wealthy parents who paid a college admissions consultant to ensure their children were accepted into many of the nation’s elite colleges and universities.  Some of the universities involved include Yale University, Georgetown University, and the University of Southern California.  The parents allegedly paid a consultant approximately $25 million which was used to bribe coaches and other administrative staff.  This consultant fabricated academic and athletic credentials and arranged bribes to ensure individual applicants received favorable admissions treatment.[1]  The fabricated documents included fake test scores, fake athletic achievements, and fake photographs.  In some instances, photographs were staged to show that the students participated in sports which they never played.[2]  As a result of the scheme, the students were marked as “recruited athletes” thus increasing their chances at gaining admission into these prestigious schools.[3] 

The scope of this admissions scheme is broad — a total of about 50 people have been charged. [4]  Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts says the “parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege” including “CEOs of private and public companies, successful securities and real estate investors, two well-known actresses, a famous fashion designer and the co-chairman of a global law firm.”[5]

The Justice Department has opened investigations into the parents, coaches, and consultant involved.  In addition, the Department of Education has opened an investigation into the universities to determine whether the institutions violated laws governing student financial aid programs.  The Department of Education’s mission is to “establish policies on federal financial aid for education, and distribute as well as monitor those funds.”[6]  Consequently, the Department of Education has requested that colleges provide information regarding “the selective nature of the institution’s programs and the standards employed in the admissions process.”[7]

It can be argued that the scandal is sui generis, in fact many people did not think anything like this could ever happen.  We used to be able to rely on the belief that college athletic coaches were recruiting players for the team based on athletic ability and that admissions consultants were doing their jobs for their love of students and passion for accessible education.  However, we can no longer rely as strongly on this assumption.  While this scandal is unique, there needs to be sufficient guardrails put in place through effective oversight to prevent this from happening again.

In the midst of this admissions scandal, there is a newly recognized need for effective oversight of college admissions that was not there before.  Who should be responsible for oversight? Some argue that the schools need to be on high alert for fraudulent applications and increase supervision of athletic programs.  Others argue the Department of Education, the executive agency responsible for ensuring equal access to education, should step in to prevent another scandal like this and ensure there is integrity in the college admissions process. [8]

There is currently a House Committee on Oversight and Reform which oversees the federal government and all of its agencies to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. [9]Similarly, there should be some sort of oversight of admissions processes at institutions of higher education to ensure that these core values are met.  Perhaps there could be a partnership between the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment and the Department of Education.  This partnership would involve a reporting regime for higher education institutions and, under the Subcommittee’s supervision, would review annual college admissions practices to prevent unfair and dishonest practices in the future.

In the past, oversight has been a result of members’ policy interests and thus quite partisan. However, there are some topics that bring people together and education should be one of them. A fair and equitable higher education system is essential to our national competitiveness so regardless of what side of the partisan aisle you are on, shouldn’t we all care about protecting the integrity of the admissions process?


[1] Bill Chappell & Merrit Kennedy, U.S. Charges Dozens of Parents, Coaches in Massive College Admissions Scandal, NPR, Mar. 12, 2019, www.npr.org/2019/03/12/702539140/u-s-accuses-actresses-others-of-fraud-in-wide-college-admissions-scandal.

[2] Id.

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] See id.

[6] Overview and Mission Statement, U.S. Department of Education, https://www2.ed.gov/about/landing.jhtml?src=ln (lasted visited Apr. 14, 2019).

[7] Chris Quintana, College Admissions Scandal: Education Department Launches Investigation into Universities, USA Today, Mar. 27, 2019, www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2019/03/26/college-admissions-scandal-education-department-betsy-devos-investigation/3277353002/.

[8] Overview and Mission Statement, U.S. Department of Education, https://www2.ed.gov/about/landing.jhtml?src=ln (lasted visited Apr. 14, 2019).

[9]  Overview of House Committee on Oversight and Reform, GovTrack.us, www.govtrack.us/congress/committees/HSGO (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

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