EDITORIAL — Admissions scandal: Line up to say ‘guilty’

The nationwide college admissions scandal that’s rocked the calm of some campuses — including a famous one in Austin — and peeled back the covers on some wealthy, sordid parents offers life lessons and raises important questions. Here are a few:

Why do wealthy parents insist that their unqualified offspring attend colleges where they are unlikely to be able to compete? For example, actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband — they both face the risk of time in the slammer — stand accused of paying $500,000 for bribes and scams to get their daughters accepted at Southern Cal, a prestigious university where their children did not belong. Why not send them where they could stand some chance of academic success or, better still, why send them to college at all? One Loughlin daughter famously tweeted that she was there only for Southern Cal’s social benefits — how’s that for rubbing salt in the wounds of legitimate students who were excluded to admit the less-talented children of “Aunt Becky?”

Why do colleges and universities spend valuable resources on fielding athletic teams that benefit only precious few students? Some of the students unfairly admitted to colleges posed as “athletes” for lower-profile sports, in that it was easier to effect a scam there. If attendance for some sports can be counted on your fingers, what’s the point of offering the sport at all? Would the money be better used elsewhere, perhaps for intramurals?

Michael Center, Texas men’s tennis coach, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Center, 54, is old enough to know better; he accepted almost $100,000 to scam the system and help a non-tennis player pose as an athlete to help him gain college admission. In almost two decades at the school, he’s established a good win-loss record. But how much does a cheat like him really benefit athletes who played under him?

Some 50 people have been caught up in this scandal since it was first revealed last month. How many others have scammed their way into prestigious schools — the University of Texas belongs to all the citizens — solely for prestige, bumping aside those who merited admission? Other schools, too, are facing some long moments of introspection, as UT should.

The wealthy who’ve been caught up in this farce now get the chance to see if their money will talk inordinately in the legal system. Maybe so. But lots of people are watching.

Here’s something honest parents and legitimate students might consider, too: Is the thirst for attending pricy, prestigious schools outweighing their capacity to pay? Hard-working students can get excellent educations at regional colleges, too, and for less money. And chances are, the student in the next seat didn’t bribe his way in.

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