NC schools re­spond to col­lege ad­mis­sions scan­dal

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY MARTHA QUILLIN [email protected]­sob­server.com Martha Quillin: 919- 829- 8989, @MarthaQuillin

Fed­eral charges brought this week al­leg­ing that par­ents of un­der­per­form­ing stu­dents bribed or cheated to get their kids into uni­ver­si­ties across the na­tion have raised ques­tions about how easy it might be to game the ad­mis­sions process at any col­lege.

Only one school in North Carolina — Wake For­est Uni­ver­sity in Win­ston-Salem — is ex­plic­itly im­pli­cated in the in­dict­ment. Wake For­est volleyball coach Bill Fer­gu­son is al­leged to have ac­cepted money to in­flu­ence the ad­mis­sion of a stu­dent who had been wait-listed at the school.

Here are an­swers to some com­mon ques­tions about the scan­dal, as well as how school of­fi­cials in the Tri­an­gle say they try to guard against what the FBI says hap­pened else­where.

Q: What does the FBI’s in­dict­ment al­lege?

A: FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors say “Op­er­a­tions Var­sity Blues” found that at least 50 peo­ple, 33 of them par­ents, con­spired at uni- ver­si­ties in­clud­ing Wake For­est, Ge­orge­town, Yale, Stan­ford, the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les, the Uni­ver­sity of San Diego and the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin. Par­ents in­dicted in­cluded busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and ac­tresses Felic­ity Huff­man and Lori Lough­lin. Some par­ents al­legedly paid up to $6.5 mil­lion to “guar­an­tee ad­mis­sion” for stu­dents.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors found sev­eral schemes. In one, stu­dents falsely claimed to be ath­letes, and con­spir­ing coaches re­cruited them, vir­tu­ally guar­an­tee­ing their ad­mis­sion, though the stu­dents never played those sports. In an­other, stu­dents tak­ing the SAT or ACT were ei­ther given the cor­rect an­swers for the test, their re­sponses were cor­rected af­ter they com­pleted the test or im­posters took the test for them.

Q: Why cheat on the SAT or ACT?

A: Most uni­ver­si­ties don’t pub­licly state what scores they re­quire on these stan­dard­ized tests, but ac­cept­able score ranges for dif­fer­ent schools are widely avail­able on­line. Q: How does it help for a stu­dent to be re­cruited for a sport they don’t even play?

A: Schools say SAT and ACT scores are only a part of what they con­sider when look­ing at a stu­dent’s ap­pli­ca­tion, and that they may ac­cept a stu­dent with a less-thanstel­lar score if the stu­dent shows po­ten­tial for suc­cess in other ways, in­clud­ing ex­celling at sports or in the arts.

Q: How were so many peo­ple able to game the sys­tem?

A: In­ves­ti­ga­tors say the fraud tar­geted in this in­ves­ti­ga­tion was all fa­cil­i­tated by Wil­liam “Rick” Singer, owner of a col­legeprep pro­gram based in Cal­i­for­nia that is said to have done le­git­i­mate coun­sel­ing with stu­dents on how to suc­cess­fully ap­ply to col­leges. But Singer also was ac­cused of mak­ing $25 mil­lion for fraud­u­lent schemes to get stu­dents into elite col­leges, tak­ing on many clients through re­fer­rals from peo­ple he al­ready had helped.

Singer was charged with rack­e­teer­ing con­spir­acy, money laun­der­ing con­spir­acy, con­spir­acy to de­fraud and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. Ac­cord­ing to the FBI, Singer pleaded guilty to all counts on Tues­day and is to be sen­tenced June 19.

Q: What does the FBI say hap­pened at Wake For­est Uni­ver­sity?

A: In­ves­ti­ga­tors say that in 2017, Wake women’s volleyball coach Bill Fer­gu­son took a $100,000 pay­ment for claim­ing a stu­dent was a re­cruit for his team. The stu­dent had been wait-listed at the school, and was later ad­mit­ted.

Q: What hap­pened to the coach at Wake For­est, and to the stu­dent whose ap­pli­ca­tion was in­volved?

A: Wake For­est Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Nathan Hatch is­sued a state­ment Tues­day that said Fer­gu­son had been placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave. On Wed­nes­day, Hatch said the stu­dent in­volved is cur­rently en­rolled and ad­min­is­tra­tors do not be­lieve she was aware of the al­leged pay­ment con­nected to her ap­pli­ca­tion.

Q: Are any other North Carolina col­leges or uni­ver­si­ties men­tioned?

A: Duke Uni­ver­sity is, but just in pass­ing, in the af­fi­davit that sup­ports the crim­i­nal com­plaint. “Co­op­er­at­ing Wit­ness 1,” iden­ti­fied as Singer, is talk­ing with Mar­cia Ab­bott, the wife of Gre­gory Ab­bott, who is chair­man of In­ter­na­tional Dis­pens­ing Corp. in New York. She asks for help in boost­ing her daugh­ter’s SAT sub­ject score in English lit­er­a­ture, and claims, “She’s con­vinced that she bombed the lit be­cause she was too tired. … And [Duke Uni­ver­sity] told us they didn’t want any­thing below a 750.” It’s un­clear whether the daugh­ter ever ap­plied to Duke.

Q: How are uni­ver­si­ties here re­act­ing to news of the scan­dal?

A: Of­fi­cials at Duke and UNC have said that those schools do not have spe­cific ACT or SAT scores that ap­pli­cants must achieve for ad­mis­sion, and that test scores are only one con­sid­er­a­tion.

Duke’s dean of un­der­grad­u­ate ad­mis­sions, Christoph Gut­tentag, said in a phone in­ter­view that de­tails of the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion show the cor­rup­tion was not sys­temic, but in­volved in­di­vid­ual co-con­spir­a­tors.

Stu­dents who ap­ply at Duke, he said, all go through the same process whether they are ath­letes, artists or as­pir­ing English ma­jors: They all fill out the same ap­pli­ca­tion forms, and those are read twice and then re­viewed by the ad­mis­sions of­fice.

“If some­one has an ex­cep­tional tal­ent or ac­com­plish­ment in any num­ber of ar­eas, that’s some­thing we take into ac­count,” he said. “But they still have to go through the same process.”

UNC Chapel Hill’s me­dia re­la­tions of­fice re­leased a state­ment Wed­nes­day that said, “All can­di­dates for un­der­grad­u­ate ad­mis­sion are eval­u­ated com­pre­hen­sively by the ad­mis­sions of­fice. The pri­mary cri­te­rion for ad­mis­sion is the stu­dent’s ca­pac­ity to suc­ceed aca­dem­i­cally at the Uni­ver­sity. Be­yond this cri­te­rion, there is no for­mula for ad­mis­sion and no fixed stan­dard that ev­ery stu­dent must meet. Rather, the ad­mis­sions of­fice eval­u­ates in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates rig­or­ously, holis­ti­cally, and com­pre­hen­sively.”

Q: Do schools fol­low up to see if stu­dents who were re­cruited for ath­let­ics or the arts par­tic­i­pate in those sports or fields?

A: Duke’s Gut­tentag said, “We don’t rou­tinely check ev­ery stu­dent and ev­ery ac­tiv­ity,” but of­fi­cials do check sports ros­ters reg­u­larly and com­pare them to lists of stu­dents who were re­cruited and ad­mit­ted.

UNC did not an­swer ques­tions be­yond the state­ment.

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