Crisis Brings Clarity: What Tulane Should Learn from the College Admissions Scandal

Since the news first broke in March, it seems like all anyone has been talking about is the college admissions scandal. At least 50 people have been accused of bribing coaches and college officials, of doctoring standardized test scores to get students accepted into elite universities. News outlets have extensively covered the aftermath of the scandal, writing dozens of articles about the collapse of student/influencer Olivia Jade’s brand or the strain on Felicity Huffman’s marriage. Although the story is fascinating, it’s not surprising. In reality, it provides an opportunity for colleges and universities to reevaluate their admissions processes, and Tulane should pay attention. 

What’s been so captivating about the scandal is the shocking ways in which parents deceived schools so that their children could gain admission. Photoshopping athletic pictures, hiring proctors to alter test scores, and bribing coaches are just some of the extreme maneuvers parents pulled to work the system. What’s even more significant, however, is that these illegal acts are the product of an overall skewed view of higher education. Too many people believe that in order to succeed in life, they must attend a highly-ranked school.  

Every year, U.S. News and World Report comes out with its annual college rankings in which it judges schools based on academic prowess and selectivity. An articlein the magazine emphasizes that rankings “can be a powerful tool in your quest for the right college.” This ideology, however, is what can lead to unethical behavior. Putting too much value on a school’s ranking creates a system in which universities compete to increase their exclusivity. They admit students that they believe will not only raise their academic status, but will bring in capital so that they can continue to innovate and remain elite. 

The college admissions process has always been about wealth. Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the current scandal, paid more than $25 million to colleges and universities on behalf of his clients. While this amount is outrageous, having money has always been extremely advantageous in the college admissions process. Students who can afford tutors for standardized tests, attend wealthier high schools, or hire experienced college counselors may be inadvertently favored over the students who cannot.

While Tulane wasn’t implicated in the recent college admissions scandal, we are complicit. Our culture, which values our low acceptance rate and elite ranking, feeds into the toxic ideology that can lead to illegal behaviors. Although this may be unintentional, the school tends to favor students of a higher socioeconomic status in some aspects of its admissions process. For instance, Tulane prefers to admit students that it believes will actually attend and encourages applicants to demonstrate interest. This concept aims to bring in students who are passionate about the school, but it also creates the possibility of granting a greater advantage to the students who have the means to make the trip to New Orleans over other applicants.

The college admissions scandal will be remembered as the largest conspiracy to grant students admission into prominent universities. The crisis provides the opportunity for all institutions, not just those implicated in the scandal, to reflect on their own admissions processes. Colleges and universities around the country can begin to address both their intentional and unintentional biases toward applicants with greater financial means. They can attenuate the value of their ranking, or even refuse to participate in reports altogether. The point is that the recent college admission scandal goes far beyond tabloid headlines, and institutions must take a hard look at themselves in order to create a more fair process.

COVER PHOTO: Visit Tulane

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