Minnesotans: university admissions scandal shows "stacked" system


For thousands of high school students in Minnesota, the months spent testing, preparing for exams and working with academic advisors and university coaches will culminate in the next two weeks, when some of the most selective colleges in Minnesota countries will unveil their admission decisions.

But this year, the concern that traditionally darkens students and their families in March includes a dose of outrage.

Last week, the federal government accused dozens of high-net-worth parents for spending millions of dollars on bribes and testing cheat schemes to get their kids to some of the world's top universities. prestigious of the country.

For students and families who do not have the same level of wealth and power – or the desire to break the law – federal indictments have aroused anger, frustration and disbelief.

"We have always said that we are the kind of country where, if you work hard and stick to the rules, you can move forward and the path to a better life is a higher education," said Jim McCorkell, CEO and Founder of College Possible, a Minnesota-based national non-profit association that helps low-income students prepare for and apply for college. "But when you see that it's so superimposed on the people who need it the most, just one shot, it's heartbreaking."

The admissions scandal, involving Hollywood stars, seasoned businessmen and top coaches, revealed scams ranging from changing test results to falsifying records claiming that non-athletes were recruited from Division I. This has already resulted in the dismissal or suspension of coaches from Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California, who allegedly accepted bribes from several hundred thousand dollars.

In Minnesota, the news sparked conversations among admissions officers at the state's most selective colleges.

Jeff Allen, vice president of admissions and financial assistance at Macalester College in St. Paul, said that admissions staff at most of Minnesota's higher education institutions is a member of 39; a national body of admissions counselors and adheres to a code of ethics and professional practices – a code he said was clearly violated by people trapped in the admissions scandal.

He explained that the case clearly shows one thing he frequently thinks about, like other people in the world of admission: not all students have access the same type of resources, both financially and in terms of courses and advice provided in their school. These factors should be taken into account when a college decides to admit a student, Allen said.

"It's a good reminder for all of us who admit that we are really talent seekers, not necessarily goalies," he said. "We must remember that talent is everywhere and opportunities are not."

At Carleton College, Paul Thiboutot, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Assistance, said that admissions staff hear from "overburdened" parents – for decades. Entering Carleton has become increasingly difficult in recent years as the number of applications has increased. Northfield College accepts more than 20% of students applying, making it one of the most selective institutions in the country. (The competition in some of the larger schools is even more extreme, with Harvard and Stanford universities accepting only 5% of candidates.)

But Thiboutot said he felt that the vast majority of candidates in Carleton and other major schools, as well as their families, did not resort to extreme or illegal measures to gain admission.

"There is no doubt that a segment of our population may be handling things unknown to admissions officers, but it is a very small percentage," he said.

Nevertheless, the scandal left parents and students furious, wondering how much the project could have been expanded.

Amy Klaiman, of Medina, is a veteran of the admissions process. She has two sons in college and a third high school graduate this year. She said that all her children worked hard to get the best grades and test scores, and gave them high hopes. She hired a counselor from a private college to help guide the family in the process and expected her two sons to be accepted into several of the most prestigious schools they applied for. Both ended up in reputable institutions – the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Maryland – but they also received numerous refusals.

This is particularly striking in the wake of the admissions scandal: the rejection of a son of the University of Southern California, his first choice. (This is the university in which television actress Lori Loughlin reportedly paid $ 500,000 in bribes to ensure the admission of her daughters.)

"I'm a little furious," Klaiman said. "I think it's terrible."

For many families, especially those with children (or parents) ready to be accepted by some universities, the application process has become very consumer-intensive. Jay Benanav, founder of College Inside Track, a St. Paul-based academic consulting firm, said some families felt compelled to make the right decision, given the high cost of higher education. Others want to make sure that their children are on the road to a successful life – and sometimes think that they need a reputable university to achieve it.

Those who use counseling services in private colleges often spend about $ 5,000 for programs that can span several years of high school. He compared the service to that of a real estate agent, providing assistance and advice in a complex process.

Benanav noted that just a few decades ago, a student could work part-time for a minimum wage and earn enough money to pay for his tuition at the University of Minnesota – a school that is comparatively much more affordable than some private colleges. Today, a student should work full time – and even more, to pay for his studies.

"In my time, if you make the wrong economic decision, it's not the end of the world," he said. "Today, if you choose the wrong school, the wrong economic decision, it could be catastrophic financially."

This is especially true for low-income students, who often have to go through the admission process without access to private tutors or counselors, or even the types of courses and extracurricular programs that complete the curriculum vitae. other students.

A graduate of Lawrence University two years ago, Monica Paniagua, a graduate of St. Paul Central High School, is now a consultant to College Possible, the same organization that helped her prepare for middle School. She added that the news about the admissions scandal had been disappointing, especially when she was thinking of students like her, who are often the first members of their family to attend university and who may have to be already feeling that the system is imposed on them.

But she hopes that all the discussions will raise awareness of inequalities in higher education.

"I hope the scandal just draws attention to the challenges students face in improving their lives," she said.

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