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College Admissions Scandal Sparks Sweeping Reform Proposals By California Lawmakers

John Morgan / Flickr
UC Berkeley campus

The college admissions scandal — which has resulted in federal charges against dozens of people who allegedly orchestrated significant bribes to get their children into elite universities — sparked five California lawmakers to introduce a package of sweeping reform actions on Thursday.

Their proposals include exploring whether to get rid of the SAT and ACT entry exams at public universities, auditing the University of California’s admissions process, and disallowing preferential admissions for applicants who are connected to major donors or alumni.

Assembly member Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, says the actions “will ensure that there are adequate checks-and-balances to catch fraudsters, but more importantly to protect the sanctity of the admissions process.”

Earlier this month, Sacramento resident William “Rick” Singer and nearly four dozen other people were charged for rigging the system to get the children of wealthy parents into schools such as UCLA, USC, Stanford University and UC Berkeley.

A U.S. attorney called the $25 million federal bribery case the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted.

Last week, state lawmakers debated how to prevent another scandal.

On Thursday, McCarty noted that 25 of the 33 families named in the federal indictment were California-based, as were 10 of the 17 coaches and officials. “We believe there will actually be many more named in the coming weeks,” he said.

McCarty proposed a bill that would require special admits to universities be approved by a minimum of three college officials, including a chancellor, president, provost or admissions director.

“If a UC water polo special admit is admitted, we should ensure that, one, they know how to swim, and, two, they know how to play water polo,” McCarty said. “We need to double- and triple-check that there are no more fraudulent, side-door admits.”

Democratic Assembly member Phil Ting of San Francisco introduced a bill that would disallow preferential admissions for applicants connected to school alumni or donors.

“There are some wealthy who will really stop at nothing to get their [children] into certain elite universities,” he said. “If you’re taking state dollars, you should also have an admissions policy that does not show preference to people who have a relationship with donors or alumni. We’re just trying to make sure that there’s an even playing field for everyone.”

After the U.S. Department of Justice announced its charges earlier this month, the University of California also called for a review of its admissions procedures.

On Thursday, the UC released a statement stating that it shares the lawmakers’ “outrage and concerns” over the college admissions scandal. The statement also notes that the UC forbids “legacy admissions” and does not give preference to children of alumni or donors.

Other proposed actions would end tax deductions for donations to certain nonprofit groups, such as those that were allegedly made during the college admissions scandal, and regulate the consultant industry that assists families with admissions.

McCarty is also requesting that the UC and California State University systems study the “usefulness, effectiveness and need for the SAT and ACT to determine student admissions,” he said.

“We’ve known for years that the SAT can be gamed legally by the wealthy,” McCarty said. “There are huge wealth advantages through the SAT prep industry, as well as documented cultural biases.”

The UC says it is currently evaluating the standardized entry exams and assessing “the impact of eliminating such tests in the admissions process.”

Democratic Assembly member Tasha Boerner Horvath from Encinatas’ bill would ask the state auditor to review and assess the risk of fraud in California admissions processes, specifically looking at student athletes who don’t get in on academic merits.

The lawmakers expect their bills, which would not apply to private universities, to be heard in committee no sooner than late April.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio