Institutions of higher learning across the country were rocked by scandal Tuesday as federal authorities arrested more than 50 people including Hollywood actresses college coaches and administrators were charged in a scheme called the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In what law-enforcement officials dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, those indicted allegedly paid bribes to get their children admitted to prestigious schools like Yale, Stanford and Georgetown universities.
“It’s surprising to me the lengths that people will go to to get their kids into elite schools,” St. John’s University Executive Director for University Relations Brian Browne said. “It’s shocking. It’s stunning and it is good that the federal government is prosecuting this.”
Academy Award-nominated actress Felicity Huffman, and television actress Lori Loughlin were among 33 parents that were arrested and charged along with William Singer, who ran the California college counseling company Key Worldwide Foundation and allegedly accepted bribes from parents totaling $25 million between 2011 and 2018 to “guarantee their children’s admission to elite schools,” according to federal prosecutors.
“There shouldn’t be a side door or a back door, there should be one standard for everyone be it people of means or those from low-income families,” Browne said. “It should never be pay to play. Shame on them.”
The year-long federal investigation exposed the scheme in which parents paid tens of thousands of dollars for an expert at Singer’s company to take their children’s college entrance exams or pay higher bribes to buy spots that universities reserve for athletes.
“I believe this will turn into an even wider scandal,” Browne said. “And I’m sure there are plenty of parents who are worried that they might be caught up in it.”
As for the athletic component to the scandal, the sports programs at St. John’s University has a system in place.
“At St. John’s University, all students, regardless of family income, are subject to the same admission process and requirements,” Browne said. “In addition, our Athletic Compliance Office not our athletic coaches are part of the admissions process of student athletes.”