The breaking story about several wealthy celebrities and business leaders being arrested for participating in a college admissions corruption scandal is dominating news worldwide.
Lori Loughlin, an actress famed for her role of ‘Aunt Becky’ in Full House, and Felicity Huffman, an actress known for her role of Lynette Scavo in Desperate Housewives, are both at the centre of the scandal.
Loughlin and her husband, famous designer Mossimo Giannulli, are being accused of arranging bribes ammounting to US$500,000 with the scam’s ringleader, William ‘Rick’ Singer, to get her daughters into the University of Southern California (USC).
They even went so far as to openly lie that their daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Rose Giannulli, were on the rowing crew team in high school, sending the admissions office a photo of them using the rowing machine at the gym and creating fake athletic profiles.
But while the detail of their corruption and the fact they got caught is certainly shocking, it really isn’t that surprising.
This is because corruption among the elite to get their children into prestigious universities is nothing new, and it happens everywhere, not just the US.
Anger. Shock. Disappointment. Not so surprised.
Here’s what students think about the college admissions scandal pic.twitter.com/iqx2EWhDlj
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) March 13, 2019
A global problem
In India, corruption in the competitive medical education industry is widespread and prevalent.
In 2015,Reuters reported, “Government records show that since 2010, at least 69 Indian medical colleges and teaching hospitals have been accused of such transgressions or other significant failings, including rigging entrance exams or accepting bribes to admit students.”
According to India’s health ministry, paying bribes under the guise of “donations” is a widespread problem.
Dr. Anand Rai, who exposed a massive cheating ring involving medical school entrance exams in 2013, told Reuters, “The next generation of doctors is being taught to cheat and deceive before they even enter the classroom.”
Meanwhile in Australia, an investigation by ABC TV’s Four Corners found that “Australia’s leading universities, including the prestigious University of Sydney and the Australian National University, have engaged corrupt education agents who are falsifying the academic records of prospective international students to ensure their acceptance into the Australian tertiary system.”
The programme exposed practices such as soft-marking, mass-cheating and the bribery of academics as a “commonplace occurrence in Australia’s higher education sector”, reinforcing concerns that “Australia’s booming international student market is contributing to a decline in academic standards through the routine acceptance of students with inadequate English proficiency.”
From paying others to take entrance exams to giving donations to secure spaces, corruption is deeply embedded in university culture.
The rich and privileged undoubtedly have the upper hand as they can afford to hire editors to “help” their children with college admissions essays, even if they don’t outright bribe college admissions officers or recruiters.
According to The Conversation, “It has long been known that higher family income usually correlates with higher standardized test scores. There are many test prep companies, including some that guarantee higher scores for approximately US$1,000. Taking advantage of test prep may not be “fraud.” But it certainly provides advantages to the wealthy that have little to do with academic merit.”
In these cases, they aren’t overtly breaking the law like the ones caught up in the recent scandal, but their money and privilege makes the admissions process much easier for their kids compared to students who don’t have the money for basic tutoring, or have someone read their draft of a college essay.
The kids pay the price
Unfortunately, the real victims are the kids. Not just the kids who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who don’t get the same privileges, but also the kids who got into college by unsavoury means.
This is because the actions of their parents, who engage in ‘helicopter parenting’, will most likely have a negative impact on their lives. Some of these kids didn’t even know their parents were paying bribes to help them get into college
Olivia Jade, a popular vlogger, has openly expressed how she didn’t even want to attend college but was pressured by her parents to do so.
Therefore kids who find themselves in a college or programme they didn’t want to be in in the first place would likely find themselves overwhelmed and lacking in academic ability or preparation.
What comes next? Feelings of failure and low self-esteem which can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Or perhaps they end up paying others to take exams for them, continuing the cycle.
Elisabeth Lamotte, Founder of the DC Counseling & Psychotherapy Center, said: “Going to college represents a really important, significant step toward psychological separation from one’s parent. It’s an important psychological time, and when there’s a hyper-focus on trying to get 20 more points on the SAT, we miss the opportunity to be focusing on what it means to be in that chapter with our children.”
Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer in Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, echoed this statement, saying: “It’s just a level of micromanaging going on. I think it’s sending this depressing message that they can’t handle the process themselves.”
But are those who knew their parents were bribing and were presumably on board with it to blame as well? It remains to be seen if they will be held culpable for their parents’ actions.
The danger of paving the path for their kids with money is that they grow up thinking they can get anything they want as long as they have wealth and status.
When they enter the working world, they either continue riding the wave of privilege, or find it difficult to assimilate in the adult world when they realise money can’t buy everything like happiness, responsibility and integrity.
For international students, the problems could be even greater if they are forced to study abroad or face pressures to transition to a new culture so different from their own.
The lengths some parents go to to make sure they receive a ‘Western’ education could be detrimental on their mental health.
We already see the repercussions of this overparenting in the current millennial generation, who face ‘burnout’ when they find they cannot cope with normal adult responsibilities. It’s no wonder that mental health has reached a crisis level among college students in many countries.
Catherine Lowry Franssen, Psychology Professor at Longwood University, outlined the danger of overparenting.
“Our kids will grow up to be adults who don’t know how to do simple adult things. We had to learn things at young ages, like how to speak to an adult on the phone. Now, I have college students who don’t know how to make a phone call.”
USC and UCLA, the two main universities embroiled in this scandal, have said they will be doing internal investigations and those who got in via bribes will be asked to leave.
These kids will learn a very harsh lesson as they see their parents carted off to jail, their reputations ruined and their college careers in tatters.
A lesson for parents
Hopefully, this corruption scandal will open up the eyes of parents who tend to get over-involved in their kids’ lives. It’s a problem that’s seen all around the world, commonly know as ‘tiger parenting’ in Asia.
What can parents do to avoid getting over-involved in their children’s lives?
Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer in Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, advises, “Ask your child, “Am I over-involved? Is it helpful or harmful to you? How would you like me to be involved?””
Parents should also remember that getting your child into the wrong college or signing them up for extracurriculars they aren’t interested will result in misrepresentation of the child, and they will find themselves in lives they didn’t want in the first place.
Communication between parent and child is important, ensuring they’re on the same page when it comes to their academic goals and future ambitions.