Academic Corruption: The Sad Tale of Wide-scale Bribery Scandal in School Admissions into American Universities

Alao Abiodun
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In the world of academics, one of the objectives of education anywhere in the world is to prepare the young ones to face future challenges and develop them to meet the nation’s manpower requirements hence, schools need to conduct credible examinations as yardstick for assessment, because this is the most practical way of assessment in education.

Given the crucial role that education has in forming the moral values and norms of societies, academic corruption has a defining impact far beyond the classroom. The prevalence of wide-scale bribery in school admissions, for instance, increases the costs of education, thereby limiting access among lower income students. In less developed countries, corruption deteriorates educational quality and increases the risk of unqualified practitioners in professions with critical public impact, such as medicine, nursing, education, architecture, or law.

Academic corruption involves all forms of deviation from justice, honesty, fairness, probity, impartiality and discipline expected from institutions of learning. This actually stems from moral impurity and it manifests in selfish acts that are detrimental to the goal of education and advancement of society.

The manifestations of academic corruption in some developed countries are manifold and range from “petty corruption” in the form of bribery for admission, good grades, graduation or the hiring of teachers to “grand corruption” by political actors embezzling funds allocated to public procurement projects, such as the construction of schools.

Sadly, academic corruption seems to be an evil that has become prevalent in our educational institutions. This illegal act is practised at virtually all tiers of education – primary, secondary and tertiary level. it is clear that this evil known is aided and abetted by nearly everybody. These includes the candidates, teachers, law enforcement agents, examination bodies and parents.

One of the forms of academic corruption which is Examination malpractice, is any wrong doing before, during or after any academic activity. Although one may not be able to rule out examination malpractice in the past, the current investigations and scandalous revelations especially into the admissions process of US ivy league schools is alarming and calls for proper sanctioning.

For example in Nigeria, one third of applicants gain access to university because there is limited “access to education”, hence it has contributed to the use of bribes, employing the services of miracle centers and personal connections to gain coveted places at universities, with some admissions officials reportedly working with agents to obtain bribes from students.

In the US, the Ivy League schools are not just famous for their athletic prowess, certainly not for the marquee-American sports like football. The Ivy League universities and peer institutions are rather famous for academics. But the question remains that why, then, should the universities continue to reserve substantial fractions of their incoming classes for students who are good at juggling a ball around or throwing a javelin?


Days ago, Federal prosecutors in the United states, charged dozens of Rich parents — including prominent law and business figures and two Hollywood actresses — with using bribes, fraudulent entrance-exam scores and faked athletic achievements to get their children admitted to elite colleges.

Notably, Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were among the approximately 50 people indicted in a widespread and sophisticated college admission bribery scandal in which parents were accused of paying off college coaches and standardized testing administrators millions of dollars in order to get their children into elite universities.

Desperate Housewives star, Felicity Huffman was accused of spending $15,000 on an organization that allegedly helped her daughter cheat on her SATs. Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli (Loughlin’s husband) were accused of paying $500,000 to get their daughters into University of Southern California as recruits for the crew team — even though they were not part of the team.

Ms. Giannulli, 19, is the daughter of the actress Lori Loughlin and the designer Mossimo Giannulli, whose fashion brand was sold at Target until 2017. Ms. Giannulli is a social media influencer with close to two million YouTube subscribers and over a million Instagram followers. In September, she posted two paid advertisements on Instagram that highlighted her identity as a student.

However, following an extensive FBI investigation named “Operation Varsity Blues”, the case revealed that the entire operation was masterminded by William Singer of Newport Beach, 33 parents, as well 9 coaches from universities that include USC, UCLA, Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

According to the FBI investigation, parents, recruiters for college admissions and coaches were accused of giving and receiving bribes to bag college admissions to schools and colleges that otherwise require high scores on tests such as the SAT.

Interestingly, authorities revealed that the academic criminal activities date back to 2011, where the aforementioned parties employed the use of “bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children’s admission” into numerous college and universities,” including — Georgetown, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California, and University of California, Los Angeles, among others.

Meanwhile, one of the cooperating witnesses, according to the court documents, is a former head coach of Yale’s women’s soccer team, who pleaded guilty in the case nearly a year ago and has since been helping FBI agents gather evidence.

The other individuals were accused of bribing college entrance exam administrators to facilitate cheating on tests – by having a smarter student take the test, or providing students with answers to exams or correcting their answers after they had completed the exams.

Syracuse University, for instance, engaged in academic fraud over 10 years to keep its academically underperforming basketball stars in the game, according to a disciplinary report the NCAA released in 2015. Administrators and tutors even masqueraded as the players in submitting bogus coursework, with the full knowledge of coaches up to and including the sainted Jim Boeheim.

In the new scandal, however, parents have been accused of bribing athletic officials at the University of Southern California and elsewhere to get their academically unqualified kids admitted as athletes even though they didn’t play the sports or didn’t have the rankings claimed.

A number of the institutions have in smart move, fired or suspended the coaches and distance their name from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and USC dropped its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA also suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.


At the centre of the scheme scandal was admissions consultant William (Rick) Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, Calif. In another plot twist, Singer pleaded guilty to the allegations levelled against him. His lawyer, Donald Heller, said his client intends to co-operate fully with prosecutors and is “remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life.”

The federal prosecutors said parents paid Singer big money from 2011 up until just last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting accepted. The consultant also hired experts to take college entrance exams for students and paid off insiders at testing centres to correct students’ answers.

William “Rick” Singer, the ringleader of the plot, understood full well that claims of athletic prowess were the key to sneaking his clients’ kids past admissions officials. (He also arranged for some of them to cheat on SAT and ACT tests.). Singer wasn’t presenting the kids as, say, physics or math wonderkids. He knew it wouldn’t work because academic achievement is central to college admissions, and the students’ bogus qualifications would be quickly uncovered.

However, the whole point of athletic recruitment is to bend the rules to admit students who can’t meet academic standards. Sports recruitment depends on lax treatment of academic records. That’s why Singer described his method as the “side door” into USC, UCLA, Yale and Stanford.

The front door, he explained, is for students who can get admitted on their own. The back door is “institutional advancement,” in which parents lean on friends with an “in” at a desirable university or make donations of as much as 10 times the five- or six-figure bribes he was brokering. The side door was exploiting the loopholes in athletic recruitment.


From an institutional perspective, the ramifications of failure to address fraud and corrupt practices are sometimes severe. The most prominent example is the University of Wales, which was abolished in 2011 because it ran degree validation programs with dubious or downright illegal overseas partner institutions.

Dickinson State University in North Dakota was placed on notice by its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission after it came out that the university had been graduating international students from to-up programs with Chinese and Russian partner institutions without authenticated documents or appropriate academic prerequisites.

Western Kentucky University, for instance, was in 2016 forced to suspend almost half of its international graduate students recruited by an India-based agent – an episode documented by the New York Times. After admission offers were made, it turned out that the students did not meet admission standards and were academically unfit, despite remedial assistance. The institution accrued both real and opportunity costs, and loss of tuition revenues, and risked a deterioration of educational quality. Just as devastating was the impact on the students who were in danger of losing their visas and investments into education abroad.

Based on the forgoing narratives, it is therefore worth re-echoing, for our collective peace and development, that colleges/universities should be the vanguards of academic discipline and integrity. Academic corruption in all forms leads to irreversible loss of credibility. A country that becomes noted for corrupt academic activities loses international credibility. The implication is that certificates, documents emanating from the country will be treated with suspicion.

It is necessary to point out that American colleges are serving to reinforce class inequality, rather than reduce it. The unfair admissions process is a bigger part of the problem and, of course, the indictment only touches on the illegal activities. Meanwhile, the legal system of ensuring the preservation of elite power and privilege carries on.


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