Comments Of The Day: The College Admissions Bribery Scandal

This is a bit of a departure, a showcase for one of Ethics Alarms most active commenters (especially appreciated as the blog experiences boycotts, embargos, and Facebook blocking and other indignities), Michael R. The topic is the recent College Admission scandal, which has been covered here and here.

Michael, an educator, is well informed on this topic, and he shows it in three excellent Comments of the Day.  And I forgive him for never, ever, making a typo.


The college scandal has many, many facets. What has caused standards to slip so low? Well, athletics obviously has a corrosive effect, with students admitted based on athletic ability instead of academic ability. The grade inflation has also greatly degraded college standards. The almost lack of education occurring in our high schools is another factor.

An overlooked factor, however, is the public higher ed systems’ oversupply of colleges. Public college policy has mainly been about votes and prestige, not actual societal need. This has resulted in a lot more colleges than the country actually needs. A typical example would be Local Community College. Well, the President of Local Community College would rather not be the laughingstock of the College President’s Club, so he petitions the state legislature to authorize his school to offer 4-year degrees. He states that his community deserves a 4-year school like (insert rival town here). This proposal is mainly decided on its political merits, not the needs of the state as a whole. It goes through, along with new funding for new facilities, new faculty, and more students for the Local State College. With all the Community Colleges becoming State Colleges, the presidents of the Regional State Colleges petition to become Regional State Universities. They point out the prestige and grant money they could get if they had graduate programs. This too, is granted based on political merit. The National Science Foundation is then pressured to remove funding from the traditional research schools and transfer it to the new State Universities amid allegations of elitism for favoring longstanding research schools with top-notch researchers over the new State Universities with no significant research results and they cave. Now, with no community colleges left, a new round of community colleges is constructed. This increases the number of seats for college students by 30% or so, but there are not more high school students graduating. This is repeated all over the country, so out-of-state students are not an option. The only reasonable option is to lower admissions standards. Once the admission standards are lowered, retention suffers and the faculty are ordered to improve retention and graduation rates. The only reasonable way to do this is to make the classes easier and the race to the bottom is on.

The result is more college graduates, fewer college graduates that are competent, an increase in research funding, and a decrease in meaningful results from research funding.


I believe that all major colleges have services where you can pay people to take your tests for you. There are a vast number of services where people will write your term papers/theses for you. You might wonder how someone can take a test for you? Well, there are 2 basic ways to do this. If you go to a large school and have 100’s of people in your class, no one will notice if a strange person is taking the test. Many such schools only require your ID number, not your name, on the test. It is easy for a graduate student in Spanish from a neighboring college to get any grade you want on your Spanish 101 exam. This doesn’t work for a small class (say 5 people). Another method (one that also doesn’t work well for small schools) is to have your tests administered by a ‘testing center’ by being ‘diagnosed’ with ADD or ADHD. The professor never sees the person taking the test at the testing center. Depending on the security at the center, an imposter may have an easy time taking the test for you. If the test is multiple choice, this will even work for a very small class.

If these don’t work for you, there are always the tried and true cheating methods. About 10-15% of college students never even read the questions on their own exam, they just copy the answers off neighboring people. Then there is the Apple Watch to get answers. You can always wait until a friend finishes the test and they you can ‘have to go to bathroom” where the friend either waits for you or you call them to get the answers. A variant of this is the “I just woke up, can I still take the test” when you wait for your friend to leave the test, get the answers from them, and then show up late and take the test after finding out the answers. You can take a picture of the test with your phone and have a friend text you the answers as well. There are any number of ways students cheat in college. They learned these in high school. Surveys consistently show that over 95% of high school students admit to cheating in high school.

Yes, if they cheated to get into college, they likely are planning on cheating their way THROUGH college as well.


There was a great series on the interplay of academics and athletics in 2008. Most of it is gone, but it outlined the way athletes are guided through a University whose standards are too high for them. Below is my summary of what I could gather from the articles.

Admissions: To get a low-performing athlete admitted, they are admitted to the College of Kinesiology (not the main LSA College). This is because Kinesiology’s tie to athletics allows them to reserve hundreds of spots each year for low-scoring athletes, athletes who would have no chance of being admitted to LSA (average ACT score of 30). They are then signed up to study Communications in Kinesiology (not the Communications Department).

Transfer: The athletes used to stay in Communications, but the major was such a joke (and one of the main majors in that college) that accreditation had a problem with it. It used to require 12 credits of 200-level classes and above. That was it. Now, the degree has real meat to it, but only in the junior and senior year. So, the athletes are safe for the freshmen and sophomore year where they take easy classes and build their GPA.

This allows them to transfer to LSA. Although they couldn’t be admitted to LSA as freshmen, now that their GPA is high enough, they can transfer in. This is essential to avoid the rigorous classes now in the Communications major.

General Studies: Once in LSA, they are signed up as a General Studies major. This is important because other majors have competencies that need to be met. General Studies doesn’t. Since there are no ‘General Studies’ faculty, there is no one to fight to keep the program rigorous. They were able to strip General Studies from requirements mandatory for all other LSA majors, most importantly the foreign language requirement. LSA requires all majors (except General Studies) to demonstrate 4th term proficiency in a foreign language. Third term proficiency is the ability to read a pulp novel in the foreign language without a dictionary.

Upper Level Courses: The lack of upper level courses was cited by accreditation bodies, so now the athletes need upper-level credits. The two ways of getting them are low-hanging fruit and independent study courses.

Low-hanging fruit are the ‘experiential’ courses many majors have to give the students the experience of work in their field. Elementary ed, for instance, has students go read books to kindergarten students so they can be part of an elementary class, observe, and gain experience. To a General Studies major, however, it is just reading children’s books.

The athletic department has a list of ‘cooperative faculty’ who are willing to do independent study ‘courses’ for athletes. One professor in psychology signs the athletes up for 400 level Independent Research in Psychology (or something like that). Then, he teaches them to use a day-planner. This course can be retaken for credit. This professor receives football and basketball tickets as thank-you’s for helping out athletes in need.

The great thing about this is that the University doesn’t hide it, it SHOUTS it. They showcase how they care for the athletes, make sure they get their education. Using a day-planner is a useful and valuable skill, we are proud we instruct our athletes with practical knowledge, athletes are given a wide view of life through real-life experiences in classes, our professors are so dedicated they teach dozens of independent study classes each year for our athletes, etc.

That is the impression given by the MLive series of articles.

3 thoughts on “Comments Of The Day: The College Admissions Bribery Scandal

  1. In Indonesia all universities, including government Universities, have a bribe payment system for most of the students. Most people in Indonesia know about the bribe money but it is an accepted system.

  2. If the authorities were going after the people taking the bribes I could understand this. But to go after the people who paid the bribes so whole heartedly seems a little over the top. The lost the money given and their kids got kicked. Seems like enough of a punishment to me. They were only doing what in private colleges happens all the time. Kid doesn’t have good enough grades no problem just donate some money to the school and all is well. How is this any different. This sounds more like someone wanting make a name for themselves.

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