Congratulations, I am pleased to inform you…
With this week’s announcement of federal charges against almost fifty wealthy and prominent people who allegedly cheated to get their children into prestigious universities, the job of admissions marketing at colleges and universities just got exponentially magna cum harder.
Sure, we’ve often suspected “pay-to-play” has gotten more than one rich kid with dismal grades into a top tier school. After all, Jared Kushner’s Harvard acceptance has been routinely questioned following the publication of The Price of Admission by Daniel Goldman (2006), which revealed Kushner’s parents’ legal-but-shady efforts to get their progeny into the hallowed Crimson halls.
Now, the stakes have become criminal, and the consequence for higher education is that the admissions process at every U.S. college and university will be under intense scrutiny.
A school’s reputation is its single greatest value. Reputation is the currency that the wealthy and influential people in this case allegedly risked so much to buy. This creates an opportunity to take actions to protect your school’s reputation.
-Audit to identify any holes in the process
Identify specifically how student applicants are chosen and make certain your system can’t be gamed regarding academic achievement.
For example, one loophole, in this case, was the “designated walk on” student who got preferential admissions treatment at Stanford on the recommendation of the school’s sailing coach but wasn’t given a scholarship. The lack of scholarship meant the school had no reason or incentive to follow up or confirm the student’s academic status.
-Establish transparency about the individual admissions process, regardless of history
Publish, and police, your process. Parents and students should know that their child’s application is judged in comparison to every other application the school receives. And, if there are discoveries of malfeasance or other violations of trust in the past, admit them upfront.
-Reconcile affirmative action
Affirmative action is a reality in most states. Acknowledge it, create guidelines for its admissions impact, and publish it as part of a school admission board’s code of conduct.
Why should colleges add these actions to their already egregious “to do” lists?
Leading through example is important for a number of reasons. With increased scrutiny and the debate over the value of higher education, schools must find a way to give parents and students’ confidence that the money, time and resources they invest are legitimate and not part of a corrupt academic system designed to cater to the elite.
It will also help schools secure and protect their reputation in the long run while providing weary and prospective students, parents and donors who may be considering an application to your institution with a breath of fresh air.
Not many aspiring college students have felon fathers with $2.5 million to counter their less than acceptable academic performance for admission to Harvard. Still, colleges should use this scandal as an opportunity to make it clear that they are not willing to risk their reputation on this in the future.