Commentary: Why The Latest Admissions Scandal Comes As No Surprise

Admissions application fraud is back in the news this week. And with a vengeance.

33 parents have been charged with paying their kids’ way into top schools through consultants who bribed college staff and fabricated application materials. Fraud is a real issue. It’s just not always celebrities who get caught and make headlines.

Back in 2016, we heard from more than fifty schools on their opinions and concerns about admissions fraud. We found that 88% believed application fraud was prevalent among schools other than their own. Schools know about this issue, even if it isn’t talked about regularly.

The reality is that college admissions is so competitive and, honestly, so broken, that some students (and in most cases, it is the parents of students) will do anything to get into the right “brand name school.”

Examples of fraud can range from plagiarizing admissions essays and hiring someone to write a test for you, to fabricating extracurricular activities or athletic abilities.

THE IMPACT OF ADMISSIONS FRAUD

For the students who get in as a result of admissions fraud, the shortcut only has short-term benefits. They may have a false sense of accomplishment and be, unfortunately, less prepared for success in the classroom. Take, for example, students who use fraudulent language test scores. Once they arrive on a campus where those language skills are being tested, they may not have the support needed to navigate their education. And for everyone else, admissions success by fraud furthers the inequality for first-generation or lower-income students who don’t have access to the same financial resources.

As students are being groomed for the perfect college admissions story as early as kindergarten, it’s hard on their mental health, their families, and their overall happiness, and in the end, there are so many other great colleges and universities out there.

Fortunately, there are organizations out there working to change the system. In 2016, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project released a report called Turning the Tide which called on school’s to rethink admissions practices. One of the core reasons for Making Caring Common’s initiative is because the narrow definition of “achievement” established by college admissions practices puts undue stress on students and motivates them towards selfish behaviors.

Sound familiar?

Admissions fraud cases, like the one we’re seeing among Hollywood stars, are unfortunate, severe symptoms of the college admissions rat race. And as CNN’s David Perry puts in, it’s just “the tip of the iceberg.

Emilie Cushman, co-founder of Kira Talent. Courtesy photo

WHY DO STUDENTS CHEAT?

There are several reasons why students cheat to get into college, but the number one is pressure. There’s an intense societal pressure to go to a big name school or a competitive program in the U.S. and internationally. In many instances, that pressure comes from family members. At prep schools, it may even come from teachers. And, of course, the media glorifies attending elite schools.

The Jack Kent Cook Foundation identified that 49% of corporate industry leaders and 50% of government leaders graduated from only 12 selective colleges and universities. It’s no surprise that these factors make students feel like they need to attend the “very best.”

As tens of thousands compete for limited spots at these schools, some families find ways to pay to cut in line, so to speak.

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN ADMISSIONS

When it comes time for kids to apply to college, parents get excited. It’s natural for them to want to get involved. They love to give guidance along the way, which might translate into flipping through college booklets with their kids or tagging along for campus tours. Some may even hire an education consultant, legally, to help prep their kid for the admissions journey. According to the research group IBISWorld, this industry has become very popular — reaching revenue of two billion dollars in 2018.

However, in the recent admissions scandal, parental involvement was taken to the extreme. From allegedly hiring consultants and test-takers to fake athletic abilities, test scores, and even learning disabilities — it seems there was no level they weren’t willing to stoop to.

But this isn’t the first time a case like this has emerged. Just last year, a wealthy businessman was charged for bribing a basketball coach with $74,000 to recruit his son. The fact that these situations can happen repeatedly illuminates major flaws in the admissions system.

WHAT WE’RE DOING AT KIRA

Fraud is one of the major issues we strive to tackle at Kira Talent. We offer schools an admissions platform that collects supplementary materials, like essays and recommendation letters, as well as timed video and timed written assessments. Schools can use Kira to validate that students are really who they say they are by asking content-specific questions.

In light of the recent scandal, we consider this to be incredibly valuable.

It helps ensure that test-takers can’t stand in place of the real student — whose story the school actually wants to hear. Students can practice using the platform and reviewing their responses infinitely leading up to completing their timed video responses, but once the real assessment begins they are given limited prep time and they are not told the question in advance.

Simulating a live interview, the assessment challenges students to think on their feet and give a genuine answer that can’t be coached by parents or consultants. Kira responses can help schools validate the students’ authentic content, oral, and written communication skills, which has become more a sub-benefit to the real reason we created this company: To give students a chance to tell their story.

This article is based on an existing blog post on the Kira Talent blog.