College scandal: The meritocracy unmasked
Thanks to the largest college admissions prosecution in U.S. history, “the myth of meritocracy” is finally dead, said Molly Roberts in The Washington Post. Thirty-three status-obsessed parents, including financiers and Hollywood stars, were charged last week with buying their already privileged kids’ way into elite colleges like Yale and Stanford, including those kids who were mediocre or poor students. Perhaps hundreds more parents joined them in hiring a sham California consulting service to rig exam scores and help clients’ kids pass as star athletes, sometimes by doctoring photos to show them excelling in sports they didn’t even play. Rich people were willing to pay fees and bribes of up to $1.2 million to get their kids into prestigious universities to prove their “superiority,” so they would get the right connections and wind up rich, too. Yet even though the rigged college game blatantly favors the offspring of the wealthy, said Clint Smith in TheAtlantic.com, it’s college students from underprivileged backgrounds who face constant skepticism about “whether they have ‘earned’ their place.”
This scandal is “a searing indictment of the value of an elite college education,” said Jonah Goldberg in the National Review. None of the parents charged seemed “remotely concerned” about whether their children could cut it academically once admitted—“and rightly so.” Elite colleges generally offer an education no better than that available at a good state college; the source of their enormous value is the cultural “signaling” of attending Harvard, Yale, or Stanford. Because such schools accept only 5 to 10 percent of applicants, said Frank Bruni in The New York Times, they are perceived to have “magical, make-or-break powers.” Life seems like a failure without them—so “admissions madness” ensues.
“Outright bribery is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Noah Smith in Bloomberg.com. There are plenty of “aboveboard” ways to game the system, such as hiring expensive tutors and application consultants. Legacy admissions, by which colleges give strong preference to children of alumni, openly work to preserve the status quo; Harvard, for example, “is one-third legacies.” As a result, “tons of talent is going undiscovered in the U.S.” Studies show that poor and minority kids are the ones for whom “a spot at Yale” has the greatest impact on future earnings. It’s time to give more of them a chance. A true meritocracy can’t exist without “a changing of the guard.”