By Marc H. Morial
President & CEO National Urban League
“I have probable cause to believe that the defendants conspired with others known and unknown: (1) to bribe college entrance exam administrators to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams; (2) to bribe varsity coaches and administrators at elite universities to designate certain applicants as recruited athletes or as other favored candidates, thereby facilitating the applicants’ admission to those universities; and (3) to use the facade of a charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribe payments.” – FBI College Admissions Bribery Scheme Affidavit
In a few weeks, the National Urban League will release report cards on states’ plans to address inequity in their education system – plans they are required to submit to the federal government under the Every Child Succeeds Act.
The task is daunting, as inequities are stark, everywhere in the United States.
That’s why the nation was outraged by the news that wealthy parents – whose children already have inconceivable advantages over low-income families – allegedly resorted to outright bribery and fraud to get their children into elite colleges.
More than 50 people, including two Hollywood actresses, were charged on allegations that ranged from included cheating on entrance exams and bribing college officials to claim falsely that certain students were athletic recruits.
That money plays a big role in elite college admissions has been no secret. A donation of $500,000 or more can equal 500 points on the SAT, according to journalist Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.
Given the outrageous advantage wealthy families already legally have, the cheating scandal throws new light on the disparity of opportunity for low-income students and children of color. Disadvantaged students and their families who are striving with all their might and resources to overcome systemic challenges viewed the scandal with particular despair.
“Just knowing that due to circumstances outside of school, you do give your best in all that you can, but you also have to kind of balance being an adult,” High school senior Khiana Jackson of Kansas City told The New York Times. “To know that these parents are throwing money at all of these people and being like, ‘Can you do this for my child,’ it’s kind of discouraging. Some of us will probably have to work our whole lifetime to see money like this.”
African-American students have far less access to college preparatory courses. According to the United Negro College Fund, only 57 percent of Black students have access to a full range of math and science courses necessary for college readiness, compared to with 81 percent of Asian American students and 71 percent of white students.
When Black students do attend schools that offer honors or advanced placement courses, they are vastly underrepresented. Black and Latino students comprise 38 percent of students in such schools, but only 29 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course.
African American students are often located in schools with less qualified teachers, teachers with lower salaries and novice teachers, according to UNCF.
Black students are twice as likely to have their education disrupted by suspension, nearly four times as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions, and more than twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement or subjected to a school-related arrest.
Students of color are much more likely to attend schools where three-quarters of the students or more are poor or low-income, and poor districts with a higher proportion of students of color have been shown to receive substantially less state funding than comparably poor districts that have more white students.
Anyone convicted of engaging in criminal activity to bypass an already-rigged college admissions process should be punished to the full-extent of the law. But more importantly, we need to address a system riddled with bias and inequality.