Here are a few thoughts on the unfolding college admissions scandal, and how we can re-learn certain truths for free – and save $60,000 or $70,000 a year in tuition money in the process.
First, some quick background on the topic: a service that caters to high net worth parents desperate to get their kids into elite colleges falsified ACT/SAT scores and also funneled bribery money to get students admitted under bogus athletic scholarship qualifications. One of the more odd accusations involves a semi-famous actress and her wealthy designer husband who allegedly paid $500,000 to have their two daughters admitted to USC under bogus rowing scholarships despite them not spending any time pulling an oar.
The explosiveness of this story during an era of accelerating wealth divide is easy to understand. Some thoughts:
- A few years ago I extended an offer to a candidate for an open position and she accepted. It was subsequently discovered during the normal background check process that she in fact had never graduated from a local community college despite what she represented in her resumé. We rescinded the offer immediately of course. The thing that I remember angering me the most from that episode isn’t necessarily the falsification – which by itself was enough to drop her like a rock – but the idea of her simply claiming a diploma while countless students were attending that college in the face of childcare issues, transportation issues, tuition issues, and a host of other challenges. I was angry on behalf of the grinders and strivers who were investing so much of themselves in pursuing their degree.
- I know people who went to USC. It’s a great school. But $500,000 to bribe your way in? This will not be helpful if USC is hoping to retire the old joke (Q: Know what “USC” stands for? A: “University of Spoiled Children”). This will tarnish a number of diplomas in the current job market. That will die down over time, but it demonstrates that reputational risk can bite an academic institution (USC) just like it can bite a company (Wells Fargo). I should note here that USC isn’t the only institution named in this scandal.
- I’ve long believed that a student can get a bad education at an Ivy League school or a great education at a small, unknown school (or the opposite). The key is what the student themselves invests into the experience. There is no shortage of students who go to “elite” schools and view classes as an annoying complication to their magical social lives. There are also many graduates of these schools who rarely/never crack open an unassigned book after graduation. I like to find the achievers who succeeded based upon something more than what school they got accepted to when they were 17 or 18 years old.
- The real reason why parents care so much about the school their kids attend is because of the connections. I had a back-and-forth on Twitter a few years ago with a well-known software executive in the tech space about the insular nature of Silicon Valley execs who are primarily interested in hiring talent from their alma mater or related “elite” institutions. He scoffed at the accusation, but when pressed said that while there might be some of that, he had noticed far less of that among Stanford grads – a ridiculous assertion in my opinion given the fact you can’t swing a dead cat in most Silicon Valley VC firms without hitting someone from Stanford. I checked his LinkedIn profile and was unsurprised to see that he was a graduate of Stanford. Classic.
Remember: the accomplishments you’re most proud of in your life are the ones you know in your heart you earned. If we unnaturally help someone, we steal from them the self-confidence that comes from persevering and succeeding. While one of the young ladies involved in this scandal seems, by evidence of her massive social media presence, to be particularly uninterested in the normal reason one might want an education (you know, to actually learn stuff), she is young and probably going through a personal hell as she experiences the particularly cruel method of 21st century harrassment.
Be curious. Be honest.