College has always been corrupt or The real college scandal

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Imposters hired to take standardized tests; a tennis coach bribed to produce a fake recommendation; hapless children’s faces photoshopped onto the bodies of real athletes. The details of the college bribery scam are as much a source of hilarity as they are of rampant outrage.

The reality is that this scandal shouldn’t really surprise us, because nothing about the college system is particularly just or robustly rational in the first place.
Universities are supposed to be noble institutions founded in pursuit of truth and knowledge. But they are also non-uniquely human institutions: created by us, run by us, in service of us. Beyond the obvious exorbitant price of college and the exploitative loan process, who gets to attend what schools is largely predetermined by wealth and access to resources that will put one in a better position to get accepted. And along with wealth disparities, other intersecting issues, especially, race, made the college process rigged even before news of the scandal made headlines.

And it’s a problem that will persist even after the fraudulent parents are indicted. Now the only thing helping wealthier students get into college is legacy admissions, sizable donations, private tutors, board member connections, unpaid summer internships, college coaches, and a lifetime of Ivy League grooming.

The accused families aren’t the only ones to blame, either. Elite schools take more students from the top 1 percent of families than they do from the bottom 60 percent. The universities play into this ruse, pretending they’re not considering an applicant’s ability to pay full tuition — or in some cases, the capacity to give a building or endow a scholarship that brings in enough lower income students to make the whole operation look legitimate.
And while a clear line of legality separates the above list of activities that are common in this area from those indicated in the investigation, each are symptomatic of the same problem. Each stems to the greater issues of rampant hysteria over college admissions and the greater, more nefarious cycle of wealth determining access to higher education.
Condemning those who abused the system as those accused did might deter those seeking to do the same, but it also is a way of placing the burden of reconciling our own role onto someone else. As long as these 50 people are brought to justice, we don’t have to accept any ounce of complicity for whatever ways we might unintentionally be benefiting and playing into this cycle.

It’s true that since the incentives are aligned towards doing what we can to ensure any ounce of stability we can for our futures, that’s the direction that we’ll lean in. But in light of this scandal it behooves us to look at ourselves and accept responsibility for feeding into the obsessive college hysteria. Parents want the best for their children as those implicated in the scandal intimately did. You can’t blame anyone for that, but what lies beneath it are the assumptions and judgements we make about schools and people that prop up this hysteria.
The real scandal is that those with the most wealth have always had a leg up in college admissions.

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