'A mirror on America': How the U.S. college admissions scam reveals pervasive inequality in society

U.S. federal prosecutors charged 50 people on Tuesday in connection to a multimillion-dollar scam to get their children into the most elite colleges. What does the case tell us about privilege in America?

Celebrities, coaches among 50 people charged with cheating kids into elite schools

Actresses Lori Loughlin, left, and Felicity Huffman are among dozens of people indicted in a sweeping U.S. college admissions bribery scandal. (Associated Press)
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The U.S. college admissions scandal reveals systemic abuses of privilege within American society, says an assistant professor at Harvard University.

"I went to Amherst College here in Massachusetts … and I remember within the first month I had been called an affirmative action baby … at least three times," said Anthony Jack, an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Jack writes about the inequalities disadvantaged students face at university in his book The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students.

He told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay that he and some of the people he mentors have been told they got into college because they are black or Latino, and that they "took a spot" from a more qualified student.

"People make statements like that," Jack said. "But nowhere, nowhere did I see 'Oh, you got in because you were rich' as a demonizing factor for why someone got in."

Parents spent estimated $25M in bribes

On Tuesday, U.S. federal prosecutors charged 50 people in a multimillion-dollar scheme designed to help wealthy people cheat their children's way into college. It's the biggest scam of its kind ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, according to authorities.

A U.S. judge has set a bond of $250,000 for the release of Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman, who was among 50 people charged by U.S. federal prosecutors Tuesday in a multi-million dollar scheme to help wealthy Americans cheat their children's way into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford. 3:25

At the centre of it all is William (Rick) Singer, an admissions consultant and founder of Edge College & Career Network, who has pleaded guilty in the case. Several sports coaches at top U.S. colleges like Yale, and celebrities like Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame, are also among those charged.

Parents paid an estimated $25 million US in bribes to have coaches help their kids look like star athletes, and for the consultant to hire ringers to cheat on tests for them, prosecutors said.

'Myth of meritocracy'

Despite what authorities have uncovered, Jack worries there won't be a conversation about the "myth of meritocracy" — the belief that students made it into college because of hard work, rather than because of their privilege.

"Really what this scandal is to me is a mirror on America," said Jack.

"It is not only exposing the myth of meritocracy, but it is showing just how pervasive inequality is in our society."

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.


With files from the Associated Press. Produced by Karin Marley and Howard Goldenthal.

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