Experts said state bills proposed in response to the college admissions cheating scandal may not have immediate effects on the role wealth plays in the college admissions process.
California lawmakers proposed a package of bills on March 28 in response to the recent college admissions scandal uncovered March 12. These bills were aimed at addressing the illegal measures taken by wealthy parents to grant their children admissions into elite universities, including UCLA.
In the recent scandal, parents gave $25 million to third-party college preparation businesses that helped their children cheat on standardized tests. The scheme also helped students gain admission to prestigious colleges as student-athletes despite never having played their respective sports competitively.
The package of bills consisted of six measures, including barring special admissions made without the approval of three campus administrators, regulating private admission consultants and investigating the admissions process within the University of California, according to the Los Angeles Times.
LaToya Baldwin Clark, an assistant law professor at UCLA, said she questions whether or not passing the bills will substantially lessen the role of wealth in college admissions.
“While this case was extreme in many ways, there are lots of ways that people or parents will still be able to use their wealth in order to influence their child’s chance of getting into an elite college or university,” Clark said.
She said there are numerous legal methods of using wealth to increase a student’s prospect of admission, including paying for SAT tutoring or taking the SAT more than once. She added that college consultants can legally help students write their college essays or guide parents in applying for financial aid.
Sophia Kwong Kim, chief of staff of California assembly member Patrick O’Donnell, said she thinks Assembly Bill 751 will function as an equalizer for low-income students who do not have access to resources or students who are not motivated to go to college.
Kim said the bill allows the school district to administer the ACT or the SAT to 11th grade students in place of required standardized state testing. She added in special cases in which a student has a disability, a coordinator would be required to provide the necessary accommodations at the school site.
Kim said she believes the bill will benefit students whose financial or personal backgrounds discourage them from applying to colleges.
“(The bill) exposes those students who didn’t think that college was for them. … It opens the door to that opportunity if we remove that barrier to be taking the ACT or the SAT,” Kim said.
She said while AB 751 was not directly proposed in response to the college admissions scandal, it does have the potential to address future cases of cheating.
Kim said the bill would ensure the same assessment is administered to 11th graders at the same school site. She added these conditions would prevent illegal activities, such as exams being taken by hired test-takers or scores being changed.
“When you’re doing it at the school site, your teachers know who their students are,” she said. “There will be no cheating in that regard.”
Kim said she thinks Gov. Gavin Newsom and Tony Thurmond, the new state superintendent of public instruction, will push for the bill to be passed.
“This is a reintroduction of a bill from last year,” she added. “We had it passed last year in the legislature with no no-votes, so we are hoping that we are going to have the same outcome this year.”
Clark said a more thorough examination is required to understand how individual wealth distorts the allocation of public goods.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg of the ways in which wealth is used in order to get students into college,” she said. “These bills are not going to do anything about that.”
Clark said the cheating scandal sheds light on the failure of college admissions to measure merit in its applicants.
“The legislatures who are putting these proposals forward have this idea that when this cheating happens, it takes away a spot from a more deserving student,” Clark said. “But, I think the question also has to be … what does it mean to be deserving of a spot in an elite college or university?”
Robert May, University of California Academic Senate chair, said special admissions are important for admitting many students with special needs and skills.
“I think we have to examine whether there actually is a (special admissions) problem,” May said. “If there is a problem then of course we should correct it, but at this point, we really don’t know whether (special admissions have) been abused or not.”
May said the UC Academic Senate’s Standardized Testing Task Force is looking into the role of the SAT and ACT in student admissions in order to make data-driven recommendations about the effectiveness of standardized tests in measuring student success. He added aside from issues having to do with standardized testing, he does not believe the bills will have a considerable effect on how students will be admitted into the UC.
Clark said the scandal has brought a lingering uneasiness regarding the future of the applications process.
“These are just the people who actually got caught in the cheating,” Clark said. “There’s probably a lot more people out there who are doing similar things – they just haven’t been caught.”