Earl Ofari Hutchinson
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling was dead wrong when he said that, “There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy.” He had just announced the multi-count federal indictment of a bunch of celebrities, professionals, and businesspersons in a college admissions scam. But the wealthy white college scammers just cut a little extra corner in trying to get their kids into the top colleges, no more. The checklist of ploys, schemes, angles, and even well-established programs for wealthy whites to cut academic corners is boundless.
One neat little scam that’s been written about a lot is the long-established practice of legacy admissions. Put simply, if a wealthy alum can drop a few million, or at least a considerable amount of cash, at the school where he or she graduated from they can buy a spot for their kid at their alum university. Or, at the very least assure that they will get special consideration. Future presidents, Bush Jr. most notably, and even less notably Trump and family, as well as legions of top business, education, and professions leaders got into college through the largesse of their wealthy parent who were alums of their colleges.
Legacy admissions make-up a far greater percent of students admitted to prestigious universities such as Yale and Harvard than minority students under the always much reviled, and always under court and legal attack, affirmative action programs. Polls show that a majority of American oppose legacy admissions. However, that hasn’t changed anything. The overwhelming majority of top universities still dole out admissions based on cash that an alum is willing to shell out to their former college.
It’s not just the kids of wealthy alums that get a guaranteed spot. A wealthy friend of the family or relative who didn’t go to the targeted college can also buy a spot by making a generous legacy donation, or contribution to one of the endless funds, organizations and associations, or even a department, at the particular college.
Then there’s the private and public academies that prep students for admission through high-level courses and more personal college counseling. In the process, they pull strings to assure admission to the elite universities. This includes intense coaching on how to take and get a top score on the SAT which is still despite the intense criticism of its gender, class and racial bias the gold standard that top colleges use for determining which students get a look. That’s not the end of the SAT story. A wealthy benefactor can get the score on the SAT of their kid dropped or raised by dozens of points in order to permit them entrance.
In almost all cases, parents with wealth can bankroll college visits and tours for their kids. This gives them the chance to schmooze with administrators who are likely to make decisions about admission, and vice versa.
Then there’s the old early admission ploy. This is a well-honed scheme in which admissions officers simply notify the son or daughter of a wealthy donor that they have been admitted. This is done months before notices go out to other applicants, who in most cases, receive rejection letters. The early admissions serve a dual purpose. It is it a pay-back for a hefty donation from an alum or wealthy donor, and thus a revenue enhancement for the college. And it allows the university to puff its academic chest up by increasing the ratio of students accepted. The universities not only don’t hide this ploy, but brag about it. At one point, Penn for instance, on its website, encouraged alumni children and grandchildren to apply early to be “given the most consideration.”
Once ensconced on the campus, the elite treatment doesn’t end. The rich and famous are showered with legacy luncheons, workshops on test preparation and test taking, early dormitory move-in, and even lucrative scholarships.
The indictment and outing of the celebrity and corporate scammers won’t change this. With costs rising, universities are even more dependent on the big bucks from the wealthiest. That’s right not just the wealthy, but the wealthiest.
While the percentage of alum donations has dropped, the average alumni donation has nearly doubled. In 2015 alone, seven individuals made gifts of more than $100 million apiece to higher education. The number of high rollers showering that kind of financial munificence on universities has almost certainly increased since then. No matter how much the elite universities that hustle this kind of money from ultra-rich donors protest that big money giving has nothing to do with admissions favoritism, it’s hard to conceive them not giving a special look to a son, daughter, or a personal choice of theirs for admission.
The few dozen individuals who got caught red handed gaming the college admission system for their kids, it was their bad luck. But for many other rich whites who for years routinely massaged and gamed the system to get affirmative action for their kids, the beat will go on.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the new eBook, The Second Death of Michael Jackson (Middle Passage Press) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PK8Q7TM
He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.