Family

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Another college scandal brought to light

Another day, another example of parents behaving badly.

Surely you heard about the most recent college admission scandal – the latest public embarrassment but not, I suspect, the last. An investigation by ProPublica Illinois, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism, reported that wealthy parents in a Chicago suburb were transferring guardianship of their college-bound children so they could receive more financial aid. Because need-based aid depends on income, these families gamed the system by basically seizing on a loophole to shield their assets. They were helped by dubious law firms and a morally challenged college consulting company.

And everything these families did is legal, no matter how morally reprehensible.

The ProPublica investigation found more than 40 guardianship cases fitting the profile of parents manipulating the financial aid system between January 2018 and June 2019. Similarly suspicious transfers to less well-off guardians were also discovered in five other Illinois counties and "the practice may be happening throughout the country," conclude the investigative journalists. Several of the students, according to the research, are high achievers attending or admitted to a range of universities. Their parents are equally accomplished: a doctor, an assistant schools superintendent, lawyers, insurance agents. I guess success taught them little.

This kind of cheating should rile you up because these parents are taking money from your pocket. And they're stealing from those who actually deserve it. Economically disadvantaged families. Students who are truly separated from parents. Students who are wards of the state.

"It's a scam," Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told ProPublica. "Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it."

These revelations come only months after the ongoing Varsity Blues federal investigation, considered the largest college admissions cheating and bribery scandal in American history. The ringleader pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering, fraud and obstruction, and then pointed fingers at parents and university employees. Like the Chicago-area misconduct, the Varsity Blue cases involved families who had amazing wealth and privilege. Apparently that wasn't enough. They had to bribe officials, fake applications, pay test-takers to sit for their children's college exams, and lie, lie, lie, lie through their teeth.

These cases are particularly loathsome because they serve as proof that these parents care less about what they're teaching their children and more about grabbing what they want by whatever means at their disposal, regardless of who gets the short end of the stick.

But what galls me beyond measure is those parents who buy a diagnosis to guarantee extra test-taking time for their kids, an accommodation that is reserved for students with physical disabilities and/or other learning disorders. As a grandmother of a brilliant girl with dyslexia, I witness how hard she struggles and how many hours she puts in to keep up with schoolwork, but these ethically challenged families cast doubt on this essential arrangement for those who truly need it.

Of course, it's not just wealthy parents who demonstrate a shocking sense of entitlement. Some recent lapses of judgment have nothing to do with college admissions but nonetheless are so screw-everyone-else absurd as to elicit lots of head-banging. Consider the woman who peed on a bin of potatoes in a Pennsylvania Walmart. Or the girl who was shown in a viral video licking a half-gallon tub of ice cream and then putting it back into the freezer case.

Such actions are shocking for their catch-me-if-you can attitude but also for what they say about us individually and collectively. We keep stooping lower and lower, unable – or unwilling – to recognize that we are part of a community held fast by basic tenets of behavior that we trample at our own peril. I dread the price we'll pay for what's coming.

(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)

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