In response to the nation’s largest-ever college admissions bribery scheme, California lawmakers on Thursday proposed a package of six bills aimed at preventing a repeat of wealthy families cheating the system.
The package includes measures seeking to audit public universities’ admissions practices and ban preferential admissions for students related to a college’s donors or alumni.
Not only did the scam’s ringleader William “Rick” Singer reside in California, said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, but 25 of the 33 families and 10 of the 17 coaches and university officials named in the indictment live in the Golden State. Five of the 11 schools associated in the case are in California.
“We’ve all watched in complete disgust by the outright fraud,” McCarty said. “It stings even more because so much of this was based in California.”
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Other proposals aim to require college admissions consultants register with the state, as well as mandate three administrators approve any special admissions. The latter would discourage bribing one official, McCarty said.
The group of Democratic lawmakers also seek to phase out SAT and ACT exams and prevent parents convicted in the scandal from taking tax breaks from donations.
McCarty and Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco rejected concerns that the set of six bills might make the admissions process too burdensome or hurt qualified applicants with connections.
“We must close the side door that enables privileged families to get their children into elite colleges, taking the place of deserving students,” Ting said.
Federal prosecutors say that rich and powerful parents of underqualified students paid $25 million collectively since 2011 to Singer, who led a sham nonprofit, to either have someone cheat on their ACT or SAT exams or to pay off athletic coaches who accepted their children on their teams even if they didn’t play the sport. Singer has already pleaded guilty to racketing conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and other charges.
Both private and public universities could be excluded from the Cal Grant student aid program if they give preferential treatment to students related to donors or alumni. Cal Grants are based on need or merit and pay for college tuition or living expenses.
The University of California said in a statement that staff are already auditing admissions practices and reviewing the value of standardized admissions tests. Instead of SAT scores, McCarty said institutions could rely on grade-point averages recommendations, essays and extracurricular activities. He said wealthy families can game admissions tests without paying an official to correct answers.
About 2 percent of students are special admissions, the university added, and are usually exceptional, nontraditional or disadvantaged students. The system said it gives no preference to children of donors or alumni.
Contributing: The Associated Press