The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

US College Scandal: An Inevitable Consequence of a ‘Scam’ System

By Sonal Rana (Batch of 2020)

On March 12, the US Department of Justice pronounced charges of fraud and corruption against 8 most elite universities in America including Yale University, Stanford University, UCLA, USC and Georgetown University. The accused comprise 33 extremely wealthy parents — Hollywood actresses, real estate moguls, a fashion designer and a co-chairperson of a global law firm. The listed universities and the accused all share one common connection: William Rick Singer, the founder of a for-profit college counselling and preparing organization by the name of The Key, also the architect of the entire scam which has reportedly been going on since 2011. Singer would carry out two types of frauds. One, he would bribe the people involved in invigilating college entrance exams such as SATs and ACTs. On such an instance, Singer asked one of his client’s daughter to “act stupid” so as to get an extension in the assigned time for SAT. Second, Singer would deploy his connections amongst the community of sports coaches of elite universities to foster false certifications and participations for the prospective student’s admission into the sports quota offered by universities worldwide.

The scandal implicated several prestigious institutions including Yale University and Stanford University.

The scenario that has been consequently exposed is not just one wherein cases of educational corruption come forth but also one wherein the questionable ethics of parents, and arguably their children, reveal themselves as well. As long as the rich keep taking away from the poor, the question of equality remains equivalent to a joke. It is all the more ironic to observe that education is considered to be the ‘magic wand’ that would solve any and all problems of the financially backward and ensure their exit from the realm of poverty and entry into that of luxury. Is it so? Is education in and of itself not a business? Does education not depend on capitalism? Or for that matter, does capitalism not depend on education? One can pretend not to see the evident elitism in the education industry, but that would change little: a good education goes hand in hand with a good bank statement. The equation of education and learning with affluence and means is one which embeds a sense of entitlement amongst the ‘creamy’ layer of the society, urging them to take drastic steps in order to ensure and extend the prerogative which they have always enjoyed.

As for the people belonging to the ‘non-creamy’ layer of the financial ranking of society, more than often, they find themselves ‘buying’ into the widely prevalent narrative of elitist mode of education, which entails further deterioration of their economic well-being. According to an article by NewsClick, the student loan crisis in the US has aggravated to such an extent that the total student loans outstanding — approximated at $1.5 trillion — are higher than the country’s total credit-card debt and auto loans. In fact, one need not don such an macroscopic vision to understand how close linked the institutions of education and capitalism are; for instance, the fees for appearing for the SAT or ACT exam makes it abundantly clear which classes of people can actually participate in the same; in India, the fees for applying for an SAT amounts to an approximate of 7000 rupees. In a situation such as this, it becomes apparent that a ‘good’ education is clearly for the ‘elite’. And as if all of the privilege that the rich already enjoy wasn’t enough, the revelation of this scandal is reflective of the unfairness of the supposedly ‘equalising’ force of education and learning in the midst of class-based inequality.How often does one note instance wherein the advantages that are relished by the rich also extend towards the lower sections of the monetary hierarchy?

To make another case in point regarding the elitist bent fostered by the education system, one can look into the disparity one is subjected to when it comes to higher education counselling. College guidance and training are both paramount factors in helping students decide the right college or courses for them, but the skyrocketing fee structure of organisations providing these services deny the same to anyone and everyone who does not fall within the ‘elite’ bracket. Moreover, the impact extant capitalist mindset has on the education system is visible, quite conspicuously, in the mere fact that people often decide their majors and minors according to the financial stability that a certain field of work promises. In that sense, individual interest is blotted out in the midst of capitalist mob-mentality. Furthermore, isn’t the entire concept of ‘acquiring a brand’ from your college in and of itself a capitalist, and equally elitist, chronicle that we have imbibed into our being? Given the ‘unfair’ rat-race of getting into the right and arguably the best ‘brand’ of college, how does one even make a case for meritocracy? Is there such a thing as merit if majority of people are forced to withdraw their rightful participation?

If one looks at it this way, the entire higher education scam has opened up a scenario wherein one finds oneself pondering over certain very important questions; the first one being, where is the space for ethics in education? More importantly, what are the hopes for a future wherein one’s wealth unfairly decides the opportunities one receives, or rather does not receive? In the midst of all these moral questions, there also stands the pragmatic question of why do we, as students and parents, find ourselves obsessing over certain universities over others, so much so that we resort to extreme lengths to associate ourselves with them? Is Ivy League all that great? Are we not, to some extent, brainwashed into believing so as well? The grand pedestal on which we have uplifted certain specific universities is allowing them to deploy this panoptic vision to monitor and control our mindsets, ensuring that the public narrative always works in their favour.

In short, there is a lot to re-think, and the US education scam has facilitated an unfortunate opportunity for us to process a lot of what we have hitherto taken for granted.

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