The US college admissions bribery scandal is just a new form of an old problem

Many proponents of fair and equitable access to the top US universities are outraged over the recent revelations that certain undeserving students were admitted to many prestigious US universities through a backdoor system of bribes and preferential admissions. While these advocates are generally against the unfair treatment of students in Harvard admissions and the abuses of Affirmative Action, their anger about this scandal is unfortunately misplaced.

The top US universities have always contained systems which confer preferential treatment to certain classes of society. The fact that a not more than a few score of high-profile parents were seduced into paying for shortcuts to university for their kids is really just a drop in the ocean. Legacy has always been an unfair tilt in the admissions process. Athletics, upon which this scandal revolves, has always been a door through which underqualified applicants can find their way into universities whose academic rigors these athletes are not prepared for. Even success on the SAT, which is meant to be a test of intellectual aptitude, is more strongly correlated with socio-economic status than any other factor, including academic metrics.

Meritocracy at the university level is a noble goal, one which puts certain universities head and shoulders above the rest. But the truth is that merit has always only played a partial role in US university admissions. And as with all human endeavours, even as we fight the good fight, proximity to money and power will always align with privilege and access.

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