After college admissions scandal, UC rolls out reforms to avoid more fraud
LOS ANGELES — The University of California on Thursday released a sweeping list of recommendations aimed at better policing of fraud and conflicts of interest in admitting students — a process triggered by the national college admissions scandal.
The recommendations, which UC President Janet Napolitano now plans to implement, include stronger verification of claims on students' applications, reviews of potential links between donors and applicants, and stricter scrutiny of those admitted for special talents, such as athletes and artists.
Napolitano said she ordered an internal audit to come up with the recommendations as a “proactive step” to protect the integrity of UC, the nation's leading public research university.
“We have a responsibility to make sure we're adhering to the highest standards where admissions are concerned,” she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It seemed, to me, timely and important to direct that we do our own evaluation of our admissions procedures to make sure that we are not only turning very square corners with students and their families, but also that we are bolstering our defenses against anyone who would try to game the admissions system.”
The national admissions scandal, which erupted in March, has roiled elite institutions across the nation, prompting pledges of reform amid widespread public anger and disgust.
Newport Beach college consultant William “Rick” Singer has admitted to masterminding a brazen scheme in which he charged affluent parents huge sums to rig their children's entrance exams or to outright buy their entrance into top-tier colleges by paying coaches to designate students as recruited athletes. He has pleaded guilty to several felonies.
So far, two UC campuses — UCLA and UC Berkeley — have been ensnared in the fallout.
At UCLA, according to an indictment charging the men's soccer coach, Jorge Salcedo, with racketeering, Singer paid Salcedo $200,000 to pass off two children of his clients as recruited soccer players. Nine days after the indictment was unsealed, he resigned from the coaching post he had held for 15 years. He has pleaded not guilty.
At UC Berkeley, at least one student was admitted with fraudulent test scores, prosecutors allege. David Sidoo, a Canadian businessman and former professional football player, is accused of paying Singer to fix entrance exams for his two sons. The younger of the two, Jordan Sidoo, attended UC Berkeley. David Sidoo, indicted on charges of fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, has pleaded not guilty.
The systemwide internal audit Napolitano ordered looked at what controls campuses already had in place to guard against fraud, but not how well they have used them. That question will be examined in a second audit to be completed by the end of this year.
Overall, Napolitano said, UC's admission system works well in selecting the most qualified applicants. UC policy prohibits consideration of donations or family alumni — known as legacy applicants — in admissions decisions.
To qualify for admission, most California freshman applicants must speak English, complete a series of prescribed college-prep classes, have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit SAT or ACT test scores. Several other factors also are used for evaluation, including special talents and awards, location and life experience.
Last year, the system's nine undergraduate campuses attracted about 223,500 applicants and admitted about 136,000 of them. UCLA, the most popular campus, admitted just 15.6% of 137,513 prospective freshmen and transfer applicants for fall 2018.
UC typically cancels about 100 applications each year because students don't respond to requests to verify claimed achievements. Campuses also usually revoke fewer than half a dozen admission offers because of admitted falsification, UC officials say.
“We overall have good standards for admissions,” Napolitano said. “But one case is too many, and we really want to hold ourselves to a zero tolerance standard.”
She said the area that needs the most scrutiny is special admissions, where athletes, artists and others receive extra consideration for their talents.
The audit recommended stricter controls, many for the admission of recruited athletes who do not receive scholarships. The risk of fraud involving scholarship athletes, the review said, is significantly lower because NCAA rules “make it difficult for coaches to place those who are unqualified on a team roster.”
The audit proposes that the person who recommends the admission should verify the talent, and then a supervisor must approve it and send it on for a third-level review.
Other recommendations include a requirement that all recruited nonscholarship athletes be required to participate in the sport for at least a year — currently only UCLA and UC Berkeley require this — and be monitored for compliance.