Oh, What a Surprise!  Wealthy Americans Spend to Give Their Children an Edge

Oh, What a Surprise! Wealthy Americans Spend to Give Their Children an Edge

America is shocked by the discovery of parents trying to influence the outcome of their children’s success in admission decisions at selective colleges.  The newspapers and TV coverage have been replete with expressions of disgust at finding that well-to-do parents have been willing to spend thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, to ensure that their kids came out on top of the selection processes.  The New York Times has led on this recent scandal by deep and opinionated front page and multiple other page stories of outrage at the behavior of parents seeking to influence college entry decisions.

If you believe all these expressions of surprise and, even more, anger at learning of specific examples of how well-to-do parents spend lots of money to improve the chances of their children going to elite institutions, then you have to also embrace with equal seriousness the wonderment of Santa Claus’ good deeds at Christmas time.  It is, in fact, the height of naiveté to be surprised that people will do any and everything to try to ensure their children’s success. 

In fact, those with money have long spent and will continue to spend money liberally for such purposes.  And, the universities have long trafficked in this reality and have developed all sorts of opportunities within the law to accommodate wealthy parents’ wishes.   Raising money is one of the most important responsibilities and challenges of presidents of private colleges and universities.  And raising money from parents is especially so.  Just look at the Kushner family and the one and a half plus million Jared’s father spent in the late 1990 to get him into Harvard.

All the latest national uproar over the FBI’s uncovering of a new level and vehicle for parents seeking a way to assure their children’s success is really just one more simplistic democratic ideal crushed – with little real connection with long-standing reality.  And, the apparent structure of this new scheme designed by some not very bright person named William Singer, which crossed the legal line, was badly conceived and involved large numbers of administrative creeps within the institutions such that it was bound to fail.  Quite simply, it was the stupid and decidedly illegal nature and structure of this newest scheme to get parents to spend big dollars to get their kids in good colleges and not the concept that parents who can will seek every opportunity to spend handsomely but legally to give their children an edge in college admissions.  And, colleges and universities will, at the same time, continue to find innovative ways to address this desire and their institutional needs.

College costs have risen so high in recent years that there is now ever greater incentives for high crimes.  For several decades, cost of tuition and board at private colleges and universities have consistently risen annually, well over cost of living.  Costs have gone up almost as much at public institutions.  At the same time as costs have gone up, regrettably, little change has occurred in the quality and effectiveness of degrees.  But, that reality does not dampen enthusiasm for parents and institutions to play the system.

Paying over $50K a year for tuition alone at private colleges is enough to make one sick.  But, that’s what it costs and parents have little choice but to beg, borrow and, yes, even commit white collar crimes to ensure their children’s entry into the best institution possible.

So spare me the outrage, New York Times, and get with the program.  Discovery of a backdoor program for better-off kids to get into college is not news.   It’s been going on for decades if not centuries, and will continue in, yes, this democracy for some time to come.  Remember, Kushner got into Harvard through the back door in 1999.  I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that a Roosevelt or two did so too, as have scores of others in the distant and recent past.

Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.

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  • SwixBlue

    March 14, 2019

    It’s amazing the liberals are screaming about equality for all, tax and distribute the “wealth” yet they are the same ones throwing out tens of thousands of dollars ???? to get their undeserving over helicoptered brat into an elite college, which is really not all that elite acccording to NPR

    ...But the colleges that most excel in promoting social mobility, according to an analysis by economist Raj Chetty, aren't the Ivies — they are excellent, open-access public institutions and community colleges with large numbers of working-class students, like the City University of New York.
    All else being equal, highly selective colleges do seem to confer an income premium over nonselective colleges. But an individual's choice of major, such as engineering, is a far more powerful factor in her eventual earnings than her choice of college.
    If you have more specific dreams, the Ivy League holds a near monopoly over the Supreme Court.
    CEOs, on the other hand, come from a broader mix of public and private institutions, with only 14 Ivy Leaguers among the top 100 companies in the U.S., according to a U.S. News & World Report analysis last year.
    Meanwhile, many tech billionaires are better known as college dropouts.

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