Universities are trying to contain the fallout from allegations that families with money and clout paid bribes for their children to attend eight prestigious institutions.
They’re facing questions about the fates of students involved and whether they knew about their parents’ alleged acts. And, at a time of year when colleges are whittling down the mountain of applications and sending out acceptance letters, they’re having to look for prospective students who might be connected to the scandal.
Fifty people – including Hollywood stars, top CEOs, college coaches and standardized test administrators – allegedly took part in the scheme to cheat on tests and admit students to leading institutions as athletes, regardless of their abilities. At least eight universities are referred to in a federal indictment and criminal complaint.
William Rick Singer, the plot’s accused mastermind, allegedly told prospective clients that he created a “side door” for wealthy families to get their children into top US colleges. Singer was paid roughly $25 million by parents to help their children get into the schools, the US attorney said.
While the names of the students involved have not been released, universities are distancing themselves from coaches identified in the scandal and scrambling to contain the fallout from a scandal that raises questions about whether qualified students were denied entry to accommodate children of the rich and famous.
The prosecutor also raised the possibility that students could be charged. Here’s how the universities are responding:
Who: The University of Southern California is at the epicenter of the scandal, with some of the biggest names linked to it, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli.
USC said it fired senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who are both charged in the scheme. The school has also placed a faculty member on leave who was named in the indictment as a parent.
Action steps: The school plans to use any money received in connection with the alleged scheme to fund scholarships for underprivileged students, USC’s interim President Wanda M. Austin said.
USC is making several changes to its oversight and review of student-athletes for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to a letter from interim President Wanda Austin.
“Every student-athlete candidate’s file will be reviewed on three levels – by the head coach, the senior sports administrator overseeing the team, and the USC Office of Athletics Compliance – before being sent to the admissions staff,” the letter states. “The head coach will certify in writing that the student is being recruited for athletic abilities. Athletic rosters will be audited at the beginning and end of every academic year and cross-checked with admissions lists.”
Outcome for students: All applicants connected to the cheating scam would be denied admission, Polakovic said. The university said it identified six students in the current admissions cycle who would be denied admission to USC.
The school is preventing students who may be associated with the college admissions scandal from registering for classes or acquiring transcripts while the school investigates. The school didn’t say how many students are impacted but said that those affected have been notified that “their status is under review.” The school could revoke admission or expel students after the review.
USC is not identifying past, present or potential students involved in the scheme, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 that says information cannot be released without prior written consent from the student.
President Austin’s letter also addresses the students currently enrolled who have been caught up in the scandal, including social media influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli, whose parents have pleaded not guilty to charges.
Austin writes that the cases are still going through internal review and “each of those students has been notified of the review and given a deadline for response.”
“The possible outcomes range from no finding of violation to revocation of admission, and will depend on the facts of each case,” the letter states.
Who: UCLA has put its men’s soccer head coach Jorge Salcedo on leave as he faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering.