California bills aim to counter college admissions scandal
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lawmakers proposed measures Thursday intended to discourage a repeat of the college admissions bribery scandal that largely began in California but is roiling universities nationwide.
They include requiring that three college administrators sign off on special admissions and banning preferential admissions for students who are related to the institution’s donors or alumni.
The Democratic Assembly members also want to audit public universities’ admissions practices and study phasing out college admissions tests. They hope to require college admissions consultants to register with the state. And they want to strip tax write-offs from any parent convicted in the bribery scandal.
Authorities say wealthy parents paid an admissions consultant to rig their children’s test scores and bribe coaches at sought-after schools to admit students as athletes, regardless of their ability.
“We’ve all watched in complete disgust by the outright fraud,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento. “It stings even more because so much of this was based in California.”
The admitted ringleader, 25 of the 33 families and 10 of the 17 coaches and university officials named in the indictment were based in California, he said.
Many involved private colleges and universities, which would risk being excluded from the Cal Grant student aid program if they give preferential admissions treatment to students related to a college’s donors or alumni under a bill by Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco.
“There are so many legal channels that people can (preferentially) get into schools, which is donate a building, buy a professorship, become a major donor,” he said. “Most of these families have access that the 99 percent of folks don’t have.”
Ting cited a 2018 Survey of College and University Admissions Directors finding that 42 percent of admissions directors at private institutions said a student’s legacy status is a factor in admissions decisions.
A law requiring multiple officials to sign off on special admissions, including the institution’s president and admissions director, would deter bribing a single official to gain special treatment, said McCarty. His legislation excludes athletes, which he defended by saying those caught up in the bribery scandal were “fake athletes.”
“We need to double and triple check to make sure there are no more fraudulent side-door admits,” McCarty said.
He and Ting rejected concerns that the measures might make admissions requirements too onerous or have the unintended consequence of excluding worthy students who happen to be related to university donors or alumni.
“For every slot that’s going to bribe their way into school, that means another honest kid who deserved to get in didn’t get in,” Ting said.
The lawmakers called for California public colleges to study ending their use of ACT and SAT tests, which McCarty said contain cultural biases and can be gamed by wealthy families even without the sort of illegal rigging engineered by California-based admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer.
Institutions could instead rely on guides including students’ grade point averages, other test results, recommendations, essays and extracurricular activities, which he said could pinpoint worthy students no matter their wealth or social status.
The University of California said in a statement that its leaders share lawmakers’ outrage but are already auditing admissions practices and reviewing the value of standardized admissions tests. About 2 percent of students are special admissions, which are usually reserved for exceptional, nontraditional or disadvantaged students. And the UC said it gives no preference to children of donors or alumni.
Abigail Leyva, a 17-year-old junior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, said she qualifies for free help with studying for her college admissions tests because she is a low-income student.
“In my community, I can tell you there’s lots of other kids who are not able to access SAT prep, and I feel like this is a major disadvantage for students,” she said after happening into the lawmakers’ news conference during a visit to the state Capitol.
“I mean, SAT prep is a lot of money, it’s like a few thousand dollars, and coming from a household like mine, my parents would not be able to afford it.”