Operation Varsity Blues: College Admissions Favor the Privileged

March 2019 brought to light the largest college admission scam ever, coining the name “Operation Varsity Blues.” There are over 50 defendants across six states who paid to either cheat on the entrance exams or bribe athletic officials to fake athletic credentials at elite schools, such as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and University of Southern California. Among the defendants are several celebrities, including Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The people in question paid from $200,000 to $6.5 million. Two ACT/SAT administrators, one exam proctor, and nine coaches were also arrested for their involvement.

William Singer was the facilitator of the scheme. He would be paid through a fake charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, and distribute the money to any necessary party to get the job done. Mark Riddell was the third party, who would secretly take the test for the student or replace the student’s responses with his own. If he did secretly take the test, then the administrators or proctors would have to be bribed as well. The parents who hired Singer paid from $15,000 up to $75,000 per test. Felicity Huffman was the prominent figure is this first type of scheme. She paid $15,000 to cheat for her daughter who received over 400 points more on the SAT than her original test.

The second scheme was the fake athletic recruits. Although coaches are not the deciding factor in the admissions process, being a recruited Division 1 athlete is a very strong influencer in the process. Because of this, Singer would bribe coaches or athletic officials to recommend to admission officials that the student should be accepted. It didn’t matter if the student had never played the sport, was never on a team, or the school they previously went to even had a team for that sport. Lori Loughlin paid $500,000 for her two daughters to attend University of Southern California as crew recruits when they had never played the sport in their lives.

One of the worst parts of this whole scheme was that the Key Worldwide Foundation was situated as a charitable organization that helped provide education to disadvantaged youth. Their letter to clients stated: Your generosity will allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.” In reality, the money was being laundered to get the children of wealthy people into elite schools. So not only were they scamming the admissions process and taking away spots from deserving students, but they were doing it all under the guise that they were helping underprivileged youth.

This whole situation makes a larger commentary on the education system and the privilege and elitism that corrupts it. $6.5 million. College roughly costs about $140,000 for all four years, and someone was willing to pay $5 million over the price just so their child could go to an elite school. The fact that some colleges are referred to as “elite” schools creates competition in a field that should be universal, education. Everyone should receive education on an equal level no matter what their past achievements are or where they come from. One of our rights as human beings is the equality of opportunity, but a large part of accessing that opportunity is through education. Should we not all be afforded the same equal opportunity and access to go to a university that provides all the necessary aspects of a full college degree? The “higher learning” of elite schools is unfair to the majority of people, especially with their admissions process being as selective as it is. And then you have the people who just cheat their way into the elite schools. Now we have these people who already receive special privileges due to their wealth and then go to these elite colleges without being qualified. If elite schools are going to exist, then people who are actually qualified and hard-working should go. It’s like the system is rigged no matter what you do, and always in favor of the privileged.  

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