Bigger news than the college admissions scandal

As those indicted in the college admissions scandal continue to come into court in Boston to enter their pleas, the story continues to be front page news. But for all of the headlines and talk on television and in social media, the BIG college news had actually been made one week before the United States Attorney spoke in Boston and continues to go largely unreported.

Though unreported, that story will have very real consequences for the college landscape going forward and, therefore, for parents and students preparing for college.  The story was the statement by the president of the American Council on Education, Ted Mitchell, when he said higher education must recognize that it no longer is the sole arbiter of what the content of higher education will be.

To understand the deep meaning of this statement is to understand that colleges and what they teach will no longer be decided alone by college presidents and college faculties gathered behind the ivied walls of academe. Instead, going forward, others, outside the walls, will change what is taught and how it is taught.  Think of online courses, certifications instead of degrees, students who study at various times while they pursue careers and a host of new possibilities.  And think of the cost of earning a degree or certification, or both, going down even as the cost of books, rented or obtained in digital formats, also become more affordable.

The future of college like the future of work is full of excitement, accessibility and opportunity.  But while its coming is inexorable it will not be without objection, false starts and the need for persistence on the part of all the players.  For more of this and of coming changes in how we will pay for college, return for more blog posts here.


The College Admissions Scandal the Media Covered . . . and the Ongoing One They Missed

By this time, everyone knows the facts of the college admissions and testing scam engineered by William “Rick” Singer’s Edge College & Career Network and his “side door” to elite colleges which he promised the Key to for parents who paid from $75,000 to more than $1 million for his services.

The college admissions and test taking scam revealed nearly a month ago in Boston was shocking, no doubt about it. Columnists could talk of nothing else for days. But the story’s allure to the media and the rest of us, I guess, was the unfairness of it all, the brazen immorality, and, let’s face it, the voyeuristic glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

It doesn’t excuse anything, but relatively few people were involved. After all, how many of your friends are conniving to the tune of half a million dollars to get their kids into college? None of them.

Yet self-appointed experts deemed the scandal “a staggering indictment of higher education and American education policy generally.”  No, it was a staggering indictment of some 50 parents, coaches and at least one college official.  (More indictments are anticipated.)

Do you want to know what the ­real indictment of higher education is? The scandal that may very well in some way affect you and your child and everyone who’s working so hard to give their kids the best chance at life?

Consider this:

— one-third of entering college freshman transfer after one year (typically, just 43% of their credits go with them)

— only 60 percent of first time, full time freshmen graduate and too many of them take six years to graduate

— far too many college freshmen, ill-prepared by their high schools yet admitted to their colleges, are then left with too little support and drop out.

— thousands of students each year carry more than $30,000 of student loan debt due, at least in part, to the financial aid policies of the federal government and colleges and to the failure of school districts to educate their taxpaying parents about the complexities and financial dangers inherent in the college financial aid system.

— According to a report just released by the Urban Institute, a Washington, DC, think tank, 62% of parents of college students today borrow more than what the federal financial aid formula determined they could afford. Nearly 800,000 parents borrowed an average of $16,452 during the 2017-18 academic year through the federal government’s Parent PLUS loan program.

These are some of the scandalous facts we should really be concerned about.

But there is reason for hope.  A glimpse at that is the subject of the next post.


The college admissions scandal was, well, scandalous, and we’ve all read the continuing headlines about the scheme, its criminal leader and his cabal of test “proctors,” college coaches and at least one college administrator.

But for me, the most disturbing headline appeared in the New York Law Journal and read, “Not Worried About the Moral Issue.’ The Law Journal reported the allegation that the co-chairman of one of the most prominent law firms in America had paid ringleader Rick Singer $75,000 to have wrong answers on his daughter’s ACT test “corrected” by a test proctor in Singer’s control in order to assure an exceptionally high score on the test.

According to a wiretap transcript cited by federal prosecutors in Boston, this lawyer, Gordon Caplan, stated in a phone call to Rick Singer, who by then was cooperating with prosecutors, “I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the—if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.”

As a lawyer, as a certified college admissions advisor, as a former high school English teacher and as a former proctor for the College Board’s SAT examination, my reaction to this headline was multifaceted disgust.  There is a lawyer’s personal moral code and the Code of Ethics for lawyers.  Mr. Caplan’s law firm removed him as co-chair of the firm and suspended him, apparently thinking that if he wasn’t “worried about the moral issue here” he might also occasionally not be worried about the ethical issues either.

Morality matters in all that we do, and whether as parents helping our children with their college applications and essays or as guidance counselors and college admissions advisors, we constantly are aware that help cannot become something else, something that makes the college essay (or, for that matter, the homework assignment) our work rather that our child’s or our student’s.

The media chose not to make morality a key element in this story.  The New York Law Journal implicitly did.  And so must we.  Parents are their children’s first teachers.  Teachers and counselors stand in loco parentis.  Go. Teach.