College Admissions

Felicity Huffman, 13 Others Plead Guilty in College Admissions Scandal

"I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college."



The actress Felicity Huffman, accused of bribing SAT officials in order to improve her daughter's chances of getting into an elite college, joined 13 other defendants in pleading guilty to all charges Monday.

"I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions," said Huffman. "I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly."

Not among those pleading guilty: actress Lori Loughlin, who portrayed "Aunt Becky" on Full House, and is accused of making a $500,000 bribe to help her daughter gain admittance to the University of Southern California. The difference between Huffman's tone and Loughlin's could not be more stark: The latter actually signed autographs on her way to court last week.

Huffman has probably agreed to admit her guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. Those involved in the conspiracy are likely facing hefty fines, community services, probation, and possibly short stints in prison. Most are wealthy enough that fines may not be a significant punishment—which is an issue, if the goal is to deter this kind of behavior in the future. On the other hand, it's hard to argue that public safety necessitates locking up a bunch of non-violent first-time offenders—the U.S. needs to imprison vastly fewer people—and the humiliation and other consequences for the kids (including loss of enrollment) will certainly sting.

The bigger issue is what to do about the college admissions system itself. This scandal has revealed how the wealthy were able to cheat their way in by bribing standardized testing officials and taking advantage of the athletic-industrial complex. The sheer amount of bureaucracy evidently makes higher education an easy target for grifters. As I wrote in my previous article about the scandal, "Time to Put the College Admissions System on a Rocket and Shoot It Into the Sun":

Indeed, athletic administrative bloat appears to be a significant contributing factor to the success of this scam. Many of the bribe-takers were coaches, and it's fairly worrying they have so much sway over the admissions process. One downside of forcing universities to hire a bunch of administrators—something federal guidance has encouraged for decades—is that there are more potential targets for Singer's schemes.

Unfortunately, colleges and universities routinely prioritize factors other than academic ability when making admissions decisions. Athletic considerations matter far too much, as do legacy connections. And of course, donating a new wing to the university's hospital or library is a good way to make sure your kid gets a second look. Singer took things much further, but it's a difference of degrees. As Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times, "It may be legal to pledge $2.5 million to Harvard just as your son is applying—which is what Jared Kushner's father did for him—and illegal to bribe a coach to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars,but how much of a difference is there, really? Both elevate money over accomplishment. Both are ways of cutting in line."

The best remedy to this problem might be to admit that college is, to some degree, a scam. Note that these parents were evidently unconcerned that their kids—who were often coached to fake learning disabilities so they could get more time on the ACT and SAT—might struggle with their course loads. It's because college is a joke, and it's easy enough for an academically disinclined grifter—an Olivia Jade, if you will—to get by studying nonsense subjects. They're paying for the experience and the diploma, not the actual education.