March 13, 2019 / 9:17 PM / 5 months ago

Breakingviews - College-bribe scandal is manna for progressives

Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - The children of rich parents have always had a leg up at elite U.S. universities. A college-bribe scandal, and the entitlement on show by the parents involved, exposes one more way U.S. higher education was tilted toward the 1 percent.

The allegations are jaw-dropping. Federal prosecutors describe a conspiracy involving some 50 defendants including TPG Growth Managing Partner Bill McGlashan, Willkie Farr & Gallagher Co-chair Gordon Caplan and actor Felicity Huffman, who allegedly bribed their way through the gruesome college-application process to get their children into elite institutions like Yale.

The scam as laid out on Tuesday by the Justice Department worked in several ways, including a setup in which other people took or corrected entrance exams on behalf of the test takers, and a ring of athletic coaches at schools like Stanford and the University of Texas willing to take cash in return for helping candidates get accepted. The scheme extended to doctored photos presenting applicants as the athletes they were not.

McGlashan, for instance, allegedly agreed to pay $250,000 in total for both types of service on behalf of his son, for admission to the University of Southern California. The transcripts of McGlashan’s conversations with a cooperating witness are a devastating read, though his son was never clued in on the scam.

The U.S. education system already favors those with big pocketbooks, in legal ways. Parents who can afford to send their children to test-prep classes give them an advantage over students who have to go in cold. Sizable charitable donations are a common way to grease the wheels for admissions, though the linkage isn’t supposed to be explicit. For the richest of all, giving enough money for new buildings and the like can help guarantee admissions for generations.

Tuesday’s allegations point to illegal behavior. But they are still manna for progressives seeking to rebalance the entire system. Students who can’t rely on family money may miss out. But even if they get into a top school, they pay in other ways. Securitized educational loans outstanding in the United States tripled from 2006 through 2018 to almost $1.6 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The ideas touted by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two senators and presidential candidates who are pushing for free college tuition, may now get a more sympathetic hearing.


Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.

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