Use Scandal To Make College More Accessible, Affordable

March 20, 2019

For most people trying to figure out how to send their kids to college, the bribery-laced admissions scandal recently revealed by the Department of Justice is sickening. But even more so, it is tragic. The DOJ has secured indictments against an array of 1-percenters including CEOs and actors, along with some college coaches and administrators. The wealthy suspects are charged with paying up to $1.2 million to guarantee their kids’ acceptance into elite colleges. Beyond the absurdity of it — the student beneficiaries already have advantages far beyond almost all other applicants — is that the slots secured through bribes are thus denied to students who might have gained them by merit. A 2014 study by economists Alan Kreuger and Stacy Dale, cited in The New York Times analysis feature, the Upshot, found that admission to an elite college did nothing to alter the prospects for students already in position to succeed because of other factors. Admission made a huge difference, however, to good students from poor families because the elite schools provided them with social capital to which they otherwise would not have access. For a kid in the top 1 percent, social mobility isn’t dependent on being admitted to Yale. But for a smart kid from the bottom 20 percent, admission to an elite school could accelerate him up the ladder. Yet, as a policy matter, the gravest concern about college admissions usually involves affirmative action programs that attempt to open opportunities to students for whom it would make the greatest difference. Policymakers should use the scandal as a lens on the need to make college accessible and affordable.