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Tuesday, March 12, 2019


By now you have all heard or read about the massive college admissions scam just busted up by the feds. If not, read it here.  I know that I am supposed to pull a long face, say tut tut and shame, and then opine seriously about the deeper meaning of it all for capitalist society, but I am having trouble controlling my giggling.

I will make a little bet:  the students who were fraudulently shoehorned into the elite schools by this RICO-style conspiracy are doing just as well as the ones who were legitimately admitted.


s. wallerstein said...

I'm curious why you say that they were doing just as well as the ones legitimately admitted.

In my university experience, admittedly a long time ago, as I recall, the best students were not the rich kids (whose parents had the money to pay bribes), but the kids from middle middle or even lower middle class families who worked harder because they had learned fairly young life that they had to work hard to get ahead. I'm speaking of kids who came from families like yours, as you describe it: they tend to be the best students at elite colleges.

Dean said...

I suspect that by "just as well" RPW is referring to their careers and endeavors after graduation, not their performance as students.

s. wallerstein said...


If that's what RPW means, they probably don't only do "just as well", but much better if we measure success in terms of income.

DDA said...

I think RPW says just as well because if you did college admissions by lottery you'd get similar results. Also, lots of other students were admitted via thumbs-on-the-scale but legally. So this small batch isn't atypical.

Warren Goldfarb said...

I'd be willing to take RPW's bet, for the following reason: SAT scores are a reasonably good predictor of academic performance in college (although far from perfect). These students clearly did terribly on such tests, even their cheaters could only raise the scores to mediocre levels lest they arouse suspicions. The "legal but thumbs-on-the-scale" students admitted to selective colleges almost certainly would have better scores, despite actually playing soccer or tennis or rowing crew.

Anonymous said...

At least according to this NPR story, "Highly selective colleges have dubious advantages."

LFC said...

Warren Goldfarb is, I think, correct about the particular question raised by RPW's "bet," but that question, seems to me, is not really the significant question here.

A number of points can be made, but one of the most salient (for lack of a better word) is pointed to by 'anonymous' above (and was mentioned in an interview on the NewsHour last night, the transcript of which I just read), namely: while going to an elite college may, all other things being equal, confer certain advantages, perhaps for ex. in landing a first job, in general WHERE you go to college is considerably less important than HOW you go to college -- in all the obvious realms (studies, extracurric. activities, internships, finding mentors (or failing to do so), making friends and a range of acquaintances (or not) etc etc.) This generalization applies both in terms of enjoying one's experiences as a student and also how that experience affects what/how one does afterward.

Now, it *may* be the case (though can't say for sure w/o knowing more details) that some of the students for whom bribes were paid wd not have done particularly well at *any* college, and for them the elite name on the diploma may make some difference (though, given their parents' wealth, whether they need the boost all that much in the first place is debatable). But in general and for the general run of the student population, where one goes to college, while not *totally* irrelevant, is, to repeat, less important than what one does once one gets there.

LFC said...

Also, one other thing, even more obvious: the current culture/process of college admissions in the U.S. borders on the insane. Actually, strike "borders on". It is insane, period.

Every year, tens of thousands of applicants besiege a few institutions who take somewhere in the range of 5 to 8 percent of their applicants. For most of these applicants, regardless of various thumbs on the scale etc, that means it's basically a crap shoot. You might as well play the lottery. Sure, if you're the next Yo-Yo Ma or an indisputable genius at physics [or whatever] or a world-class tennis player w decent grades or your parents have given the institution 20 million dollars, you'll get in, but for most people, w those admittance rates, it's close to a de facto lottery.

Then on the other hand, there are lots of schools where one can get a really good education that are begging for students to apply b/c they don't have a big enough applicant pool.

The whole thing is irrational, with a capital I.

LFC said...

p.s. even w admittance rates of 10 to 12 percent, it's still sort of a crap shoot. I haven't looked up admittance rates for all the elite schools (defining "elite" to be, say, the most selective 75 or 100). I do know that for the most selective it's in the 5 or 6 percent range, at least in recent years.

s. wallerstein said...

It is insane. You can get a good education almost everywhere if you want to learn and you're willing to do some reading. I'm not speaking about career possibilities (which have never mattered to me much), but about becoming a more cultured, more literate and more learned person.

I studied at an Ivy League university and got a masters degree there.

Several years later in the mid 70's I got a job as a writing tutor in a remedial writing program at Laney Community College in Oakland California. The other tutors were all Laney Community College students and we were supervised by Laney faculty.

Laney was almost free then (you had to pay 2 dollars for your student ID as I recall) and so I took some courses there: psychology, anthropology, basic biology, Latin American studies.

The professors were good, the other students were mixed (as everywhere), I met some people that were as intellectually stimulating to talk to as the people I met at the Ivy League college, perhaps more so because they had lived a bit more, been around, seen things, and while I doubt that having studied at Laney Community College impresses anyone in a Curriculum Vitae, I learned as much there as I did at the more expensive Ivy League place.

It's a racket. It's like buying running clothes that say Adidas. They're the same as those which don't say Adidas and they cost a lot more.