Everything is rigged to favor the wealthy

The latest example of how the wealthy rig the system for their benefit is the story of how they bribe their children into the colleges of their choice by paying people to do standardized tests for them or bribing sports team coaches to certify that the students are top athletes when they are nothing of the sort. This kind of bribery is for those who cannot afford he more traditional kind of bribery of making large ‘donations’, with the Trump and Kushner families being prime examples. The extremely wealthy can do even more, by making even larger donations to colleges for buildings and the like. All this is legal. As has been often pointed out, what is shocking in the US is not what is illegal but what is legal.

Stephen Colbert explains what kind of cheating was done in the cases that were just revealed.

The fact is that even if these parents had done absolutely nothing like this, their children would have had an enormous advantage over others anyway. It is well known that scores on standardized tests correlate strongly with a family’s socio-economic status. The very fact that you enjoy the comfort and security of a nice home, good food, leisure time, no responsibilities, no need to work, enriching travel and other activities, and access to good computers and books and tutors means that you are spared the stress and distractions that those less well off have to deal with on a daily basis. It would be highly surprising if these discrepancies did not manifest themselves in academic performance.

Of course, if you belong to the Charles Murray school of deep-thinkers, you can ignore all that privilege and argue that the difference in performance is due to merit. That tortured logic goes like this: Intelligence is largely genetic and hereditable, people who are more intelligent are more successful in life, hence they become more wealthy, they pass on their intelligence to their children, and that is why children from richer families do better. They are just born smarter. QED.

But that is not enough of an advantage for some rich people. They have to game the system even more to favor their offspring. As professor of sociology at Villanova University Rick Eckstein says, the “College admission scandal grew out of a system that was ripe for corruption” and athletics provides one major back door.

So how do the wealthy get an advantage when it comes to college athletics? Research has shown that recruited athletes receive the largest admissions advantages independent of academic merit.

The advantage varies by sport and athletic division, but is almost universal within higher education. Many sports – particularly squash, lacrosse, fencing and rowing – are pricey to play, so rich kids get opportunities that are out of reach for the poor. Even non-elite sports such as soccer and softball are subject to class-based restrictions.

Daniel Golden wrote a book on the gaming of the college admissions process by the wealthy and he gave the example of Jared Kushner as a prime example. He says that some wealthy people took exactly the wrong lesson from it.

My 2006 book, “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates,” was intended as a work of investigative journalism.

But many of its more affluent readers embraced it as a “how to” guide. For years afterward, they inundated me with questions like, “How much do I have to donate to get my son (or daughter) into Harvard (or Yale, or Stanford)?” Some even offered me significant sums, which I declined, to serve as an admissions consultant.

They may have been motivated by a tale I told in the book about a youth whose admission to Harvard appears to have been cemented by a $2.5 million pledge from his wealthy developer father. The then-obscure Harvardian would later vault to prominence in public life; his name was Jared Kushner.

One would think that the rich and famous would care less than the rest of us about foisting their children on elite colleges. After all, their kids are likely to be financially secure no matter where, or if, they go to college. Yet they seem even more desperate — to the extent, according to a complaint, that dozens of well-heeled parents ponied up six or seven figures for bogus SAT scores and athletic profiles for their children to increase their chances at Yale, Stanford and other brand-name universities.

Why do they do this? My guess is that it’s a status thing. For a certain class and mentality, where one’s children go to college can confer bragging rights among one’s peers, another notch on the status belt to go alongside the cars you drive, the McMansions you own, the clothes you wear, the vacations you take, and the parties you go to. It is a game of “My child’s Columbia trumps your child’s Cornell”.

Golden describes the many advantages the rich already possess.

Rich candidates can enhance their standardized test scores with test-prep and tutoring. They don’t have to rely for college recommendations and advice on an overburdened public high school guidance counselor with a caseload of hundreds of students. Instead, their parents can afford a private counselor who discreetly advises the desired university that the family has a history of philanthropy and, in case of acceptance, would be inclined to be especially generous.

Similarly, inner-city schools often don’t field teams in patrician sports like crew, squash, fencing and the like. But prep and suburban schools do, giving their affluent students an opportunity for the significant edge given to recruited athletes, even in upper-class sports limited to a relative few. Colleges favor recruits in these sports at least partly for fundraising reasons; they’re important to wealthy alumni and donors who played them in college or enjoy them as leisure activities.

To avoid this problem, Natasha Warikoo, an associate professor of history at Harvard University, suggests that admissions should be based on a lottery from a pool of students who meet a certain threshold. The lottery system has also been proposed for selecting legislators since money has so corrupted our elections too.

How many more people as yet unidentified are guilty of similar things? You can bet there are more because these kinds of practices spread widely.

Allen Koh, CEO of the elite admissions consulting firm Cardinal Education, told The Daily Beast that he first heard about Singer in 2013 from some of his clients, who had hired Singer to get a second opinion. When he met Singer at one client’s home, Koh said, he was immediately skeptical of Singer’s promise that he could win students a spot at elite universities. “One of my mottos is—and I tell this to families, and I tell this to my staff—anyone who offers a guarantee is either lying or incompetent,” he said. He expressed those concerns to some families, he said—but due to Singer’s “titanic” reputation among the uber-wealthy, they didn’t always listen.

And while he suspected that Singer wouldn’t be able to deliver on his promises, he said he never thought that the middleman was committing felonies. “I thought he was a charlatan,” he said. “I didn’t know he was a crook.”

This is just the beginning of the fallout, Koh added. “There’s gonna be so many more names coming out. A lot more names. Just of the people I know who’ve worked with him, just a fraction were indicted the other day,” he said. “It’s gonna be ugly.”

There are probably many sleepless nights in the McMansions as people wonder if they will be exposed next.


  1. Sam N says

    What irritates me about this scandal is how ‘elite’ universities pretend to not favor the wealthy. Just admit it. We all know it. Admit it. Take the money openly and directly into an endowment to pay for deserving students that can not afford tuition. Have regular, truly deserved (not this athletic bs) tuition be closer to $10,000 a year and make the buy your way in tuition $100,000 or $200,000. I’m irritated that money grubbing coaches and administrators got the money to buy a second house or Ferrari instead of that money going towards education of the less wealthy. The wealthy buying their way into such institutions (so long as they are private schools, and the ones I saw listed, are) is fine by me so long as the money then actually goes to the institutions purported purpose.

  2. Jazzlet says

    I don’t know how the figures stack up in the USA, but one of the reasons for going to Oxbridge in the UK is that pretty much whatever career your child choses, it will give them a leg up. They will get to know the ‘right sort of people’ (and their parents) to get a leg up in that career. For an extreme example look at politics, in particular Cameron’s Cabinet, May’s isn’t much better, but the same is true of the legal profession, the Press, the BBC, the Church etc

  3. lorn says

    Rules, taxes, standing in line, sacrificing and compromising for fairness and the good of society as a whole are all for the “little people”. The wealthy, always quick to impose strict “equality of opportunity” on the poor people are also very quick in selecting winners for their own children.

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