The college-admissions cheating scam involving several celebrities including Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman rocked the online world yesterday, but it unfortunately didn't reveal anything surprising. The children of rich people and celebrities benefit in the admissions process because at the end of the day, college is a big business.
Rich government officials of dubious qualifications to serve in the White House are no exception. In 2006, ProPublica editor Dan Golden wrote a book called The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, which chronicled how the wealthy make huge, tax-deductible donations in order to get their underachieving kids into selective universities.
One of the people he mentioned in the book is senior advisor to the president Jared Kushner, whose father, New Jersey real estate developer and convicted tax evader Charles Kushner, had pledged $2.5 million (£1.9m) to Harvard University in 1998, right before Kushner enrolled in the Ivy League school in 1999. At the time, Golden wrote, Harvard accepted about one out of every nine applicants, while now it takes one out of 20.
These types of deals were already no secret at the time. College applications directly ask whether your parents have donated to the school, and if the answer is yes and the sum is big enough, you get flagged as a "development case" and your application is fast-tracked. "Legacies," such as Ivanka Trump, who attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of business just like her father, also get preferential treatment, so even if their GPAs and SAT scores aren't on par with the school's average, their chances of getting in are higher.
Golden interviewed administrators at Kushner's high school, who described him as a mediocre student. "There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard," a former official at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ, told him. "His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not."
Golden found that out of Harvard's 400 biggest donors, among those who had children, half of the list had at least one child who attended the university. Now, like Jared Kushner, they are some of the country's most influential decision-makers in politics, business, law, and medicine. How many qualified students from poor and middle-class families missed out on their chance to go to Harvard or another top school because other kids' parents decided to pay their way to the top?