In his 25 years working in admissions at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Peter Van Buskirk said, he never saw, experienced, or even heard indirectly of the kind of scheme described in an FBI indictment Tuesday accusing two television stars and dozens of other parents of bribery to get their children into top colleges.
“But I’m not surprised,” said Van Buskirk, who left F&M in 2004 after 12 years as admissions dean and has publicly advocated for greater transparency in college admissions. “The whole college-going process has evolved into a race, if you will, to get to the end of bigger and better things. These days, there are some families that attach a premium to their kids only attending a certain kind of school, and they are willing to do whatever it takes. Ethics be damned.”
For years, students and families have schemed to get the attention of admissions officials at elite colleges. The powerful and successful have donated money to get their names on a building, and perhaps have contemplated how much they would have to give for their child to be considered. Schools forever have been awarding admission to a certain number of “legacies,” whose parents attended.
But the activity described in the affidavit reached a much different level. It included bribing college officials to admit their children as athletes when they weren’t, and college entrance exam administrators to allow cheating. A college consultant was charged with putting the deals together. Some defendants paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their children admitted, federal authorities allege.
It brought rebuke from higher education officials.
"This alleged behavior is antithetical to the core values of our institutions, defrauds students and families, and has absolutely no place in American higher education,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling called for a greater commitment to integrity within the admissions process.
“This is an unfortunate example of the lengths to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, particularly to gain admission to highly selective colleges,” said Stefanie Niles, association president.
No Philadelphia-area colleges were implicated. The University of Pennsylvania confirmed that it was not involved. In a separate incident, a former Penn basketball coach now with the Boston Celtics testified last week that he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a wealthy businessman to get his son into the university.
“I accepted the money to help Morris Esformes get into the school,” Jerome Allen testified, according to the Miami Herald. “I got his son into Penn; I got his son into Wharton. None of that would have happened without me.”
Calls and emails to several admissions officials at highly selective local colleges, including Penn, Swarthmore, Haverford, and Lehigh, to discuss the case were not returned.
Colleges involved in the case include Yale, Stanford, Texas, Georgetown, Southern California. and UCLA.
“This goes beyond the pale,” said Van Buskirk, founder of Best College Fit, a college planning resource based in Lancaster. “This is unconscionable.”
But he said he doubted that the case ultimately would affect the fortunes of the schools involved.
“Their reputations run long and deep,” he said.