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Editorial: Admissions scandal shows how broken system of American higher education is

By Editorial Board

March 12, 2019 7:27 p.m.

The bar for higher education just got a lot higher – or lower, if you have a fortune to spare.

Federal prosecutors charged a slew of wealthy parents, college sports administrators, CEOs and celebrities in one of the largest admissions scams ever to come to light. The charges implicate 50 individuals for everything from conspiracy to commit racketeering, to money laundering, to conspiracy to defraud the United States, all in an attempt for the ultra-rich to secure their children a seat at the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Yes, that includes UCLA.

The scandal hit close to home, with UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo accused of taking $350,000 in bribes to grease the wheels so two students from wealthy families could get in. One of the students, the older daughter of Bruce and Davina Isackson, was brought onto UCLA women’s soccer in 2017 but played zero games. The other student had no competitive soccer experience and likely hasn’t been officially admitted.

The fallout has been imminent. UCLA put Salcedo on leave, but has yet to state whether he will be fired. USC fired a senior associate athletic director, Donna Heinel, as well as its men’s and women’s water polo coach, Jovan Vavic, both of whom received bribes adding up to more than $1.3 million and $250,000, respectively.

UCLA has obviously kept mum about its plans for Salcedo. If administrators are smart, they’ll see to it that the soccer coach of 15 seasons won’t have a place at this university.

But the repercussions are hardly the most important consideration. The fact remains that well-off parents bought their kids’ way through college admissions by paying others to take the ACT or SAT or signing fat checks to purchase the favor of athletics personnel.

That even UCLA, a public university which prides itself on its admissions rigor and commitment to equality, was ensnared in this fiasco means collegiate athletics, university admissions and higher education in this nation are woefully broken and unjust.

UCLA isn’t the victim here, and the truth has been obvious to everyone who cared to look. Collegiate athletics officials in this country have enjoyed the ability to scoop up students and offer enticing scholarships to court them into their teams. Federal prosecutors have implicated some of the biggest institutions in college basketball for accepting bribes and paying off student-athletes’ families to assemble competitive teams.

And even when athletics officials aren’t being bought off, the collegiate sports world is engulfed in big money interests from donors and invested alumni. Those dollar bills can dictate everything from which coach stays on the job to which players get signed on.

It’s no surprise that such a system, rife with murky-green Benjamins and special interests, would be susceptible to a Newport Beach circus ring involving a college admissions scam business and a pack of rich parents with money to flaunt.

In fact, the organization in question, the Key Worldwide Foundation, exploited our broken admissions system to systemically do what was always possible: receive millions in funds to falsify athletics records, cheat on college entrance exams and broker deals with athletics personnel to secure admissions into universities such as Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown.

That’s in no way saying all student-athletes have an outsized advantage when being evaluated by prestigious universities. Rather it’s that the select few have had the power and pleasure to stomp on those with qualifications and real skill to ensure their children receive diplomas from top-notch schools. College athletics happens to be the broken vehicle facilitating the corruption.

In an ideal world, higher education would be an empowering opportunity for people to seek higher knowledge and pursue their career aspirations. The 50 indicted people in this scandal showed us how much of a pay-to-play the system is – and how we’re all suckers caught in it.

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