College bribery scandal raises questions about fairness

Andreea Sabau, Executive News Editor

Looking at pictures from previous years’ May Days is an unpleasant activity for senior Gabrielle Morrison, who is a member of the Glenbrook Academy. Each year, the Academy senior class photo makes Morrison “die a little bit inside” due to the prestigious colleges she sees her classmates planning to attend. 

“I was touring schools like Northeastern and Indiana, and I saw parents [of] students who are my peers on the tours just by coincidence, and a lot of the parents … were like, ‘Oh, you’re looking at Indiana?’” said Morrison. “‘You can do so much better than that.’” 

The pressures associated with college admissions have entered national conversations following the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal. According to Julian Vasquez Heilig, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at California State University, Sacramento, the scandal has intensified debates over whether students who have access to privileges like college counseling services have higher chances for admission. 

Alex Ellison, head counselor at Alex Ellison Educational Consulting, said in a phone interview that when she heard about the scandal, she felt relieved that the reality of college admissions was exposed to the public. She hopes the scandal will prevent parents from asking her if “backdoor deals,” such as large donations to a college, will help get their children into elite schools in the future. 

“[Students and parents] see [higher education] as a form of emancipation, and it’s pretty short-sighted.

“I think a lot of people don’t believe that everyone should have the right to higher education because they like it to be an exclusive club,” Ellison said. 

Vasquez Heilig said in a phone interview that because elite universities have become more difficult to get into due to record numbers of applicants, some families have paid for additional opportunities, such as academic summer camps offered by colleges, to further shape students’ applications into “expert, high-level” admissions files. 

“There’s all sorts of things that money can buy to give [a] kid a leg up compared to another kid that doesn’t have the same opportunities because of the wealth of their family,” Vasquez Heilig said.

To bridge this gap between higher-income and lower-income students, Vasquez Heilig said he believes universities should prioritize creating diverse campuses in terms of interests, background and income when admitting students. 

Senior Sarah Levin said the relatively high socioeconomic status of the Glenbrook North community can manifest itself through a detrimental involvement of parents in their children’s college journeys. 

“It’s not the parent’s life, it’s the kid’s life,” said Levin. “So determining your child’s future based on how much you make and how much you bribe your way in, how is that going to help [students] in the long run? … How are [kids] going to go through life in the real world when their parents can’t do things for them?”

Private college counselor Christina Craig said in a phone interview that a benefit of parental involvement throughout the college process is that parents and students often become closer to each other. 

According to Ellison, students also experience internal pressures in the college admissions process, impacting how they view the benefits of their education.

“Kids who say, ‘Well, if I don’t into ‘X’ college, all my hard work would have been for nothing,’” said Ellison. “You’re saying your hard work is null and void if you don’t get into this college, [but] I think there’s more benefit to your hard work than just the college acceptance.” 

Independent educational consultant Stacey Riley Baker said in a phone interview that she defines her role as a college counselor to “encourage but protect” students because she views the college process as unfair.

“A lot of [students] feel like they have worked so hard throughout high school, they have made a lot of sacrifices, and they deserve [admission into their top schools].

“That’s tough, because the truth is, the college process is not a meritocracy,” said Riley Baker. “It never has been, and it never will be. … Imagine how many perfect 36 ACTs [and] valedictorians with presidential leadership in everything are applying. There aren’t enough spaces for all those kids.” 

Morrison, who will be attending Indiana University Bloomington in the fall, said she is happy with her college decision but frustrated with many aspects of the college admissions process. 

“I think [the college system in the United States] is quite unfair for many people,” said Morrison. “There’s systemic roots in this. There’s reasons that people of lower socioeconomic statuses aren’t able to get the resources throughout their entire [pre-kindergarten]to high school education, sothey’re already 10 steps behind when applying for college. That’s not necessarily our college system’s fault, but that is something to keep in mind, that we’re not giving those kids a fair chance.”