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Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?

Ever wonder how dangerous nincompoops like Donald Trump and George W. Bush were admitted to, and graduated from, so-called good schools? Forget the legacy shtick and pay close attention to the latest celebrity and wealthy individuals’ scheme that involved about 50 people (of whom 33 were parents of students)  who allegedly encouraged and facilitated the most nefarious and fraudulent means to get kids into schools like Stanford and Yale.

Some of the tactics supposedly cooked up by the business Edge College & Career Network involved bribes to college coaches, doctoring photos to make applicants look like college-bound athletes when the student in question never played a particular sport on a competitive basis, and having stand-ins take college entrance examinations. William “Rick” Singer, 58, was charged by federal prosecutors in Boston with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which served a roster of clients including chief executives and Hollywood actors,” (Guardian, March 12, 2019).

How I could have used that kind of help on the math section of the Scholastic Aptitude (not an aptitude test in any case) Test way back when! Although no colleges or universities have been implicated in this scam, one former soccer coach at Yale University, Rudy Meredith, is alleged to have taken a $400,000 bribe from the family of a “Yale applicant,” (Guardian, March 12, 2019). For a concise reading of this who’s who in the college-entrance scheme, peruse “How did the US college admissions scheme work and who was charged,” (Guardian, March 12, 2019).

It’s obvious what’s going on here in a society that has confused academic and professional accomplishment with money, status, and power. It’s common knowledge that a person’s pedigree often determines their earning power and earning power and status are generally determined by where a person attends college and the connections that one makes for life at these elite schools. There’s no Horatio Alger tale here; no rags to riches scheme, but rather, a riches to riches scheme. Since some participants in this cooked-up plot were known “celluloid” celebrities, ever wonder why the same faces and names appear in film after film in the movie industry? It’s all about name recognition and the stable of talent that repeatedly gets most of the work. Go to any summer stock theatre and it doesn’t take long to figure out that most with talent never make it to the level of those who walk the red carpet again and again and again, ad nauseam.

While Rome burns, the kids from wealthy families jump off the burning ship to an island of guaranteed wealth and comfort that will soon be consumed by rising waters.

At about the same time the pay to play elite college and university scam unfolded, a real heartbreaker came to light at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where students have been holding a sit-in in the school’s president’s office for over 40 days (“The Fight for Hampshire College: How One School’s Financial Calamity Exposes a Crisis in Higher Ed,” Democracy Now, March 12, 2019). Hampshire College is a well-respected liberal arts school in western Massachusetts situated among some of the best post-secondary schools in the U.S. It is known for its liberal curriculum, dedicated staff, and a place where some educators have found sanctuary for ideas that have not always played well in the larger society.

But declining enrollment and the decline in liberal arts education across the nation, caused the school’s administration to drastically cut faculty and student acceptance numbers for the 2019-2020 academic year. And the kicker here is that long-time, dedicated faculty were mostly kept in the dark about the school’s prospects for the future.

It’s not only Hampshire College that is suffering from the demographics and values that have moved away from the importance of the liberal arts, a course of study that exposes students to an education to better comprehend the history (and humanities) of the world where they find themselves and introduces students to the analytical tools to figure out where we are all going. Readers may ask who needs that kind of education when a fortune can be made in the fossil fuel industry, betting on a gambling fortune to enable political operatives to influence policy on an international scale, or simply being the dumb figurehead of a crumbling society?

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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