What is the Value of an Education? The College Admissions Scam

In this day and age, pursuing a valuable education is emphasized throughout every facet of our lives. But to that end, how much is an education worth? Is an education from a prestigious school significantly different compared to the impact of attending a school without the same prestige?


According to the recent scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues”, yes. William Rick Singer created a company known as “The Key”. The Key was a college-prep company in Newport Beach that utilized criminal methods of getting children of wealthy families into top colleges. The investigation into this now widely covered scandal involved more than 50 families who gamed the system.


The coaches at Ivy League schools conspired with The Key and Singer to accept bribes by stating that these applicants were recruits for the sports team, regardless of whether or not these children even played the sport. Through this method as well as several other methods such as altering SAT and ACT test scores, Singer made $25 million through bribes. Bribes ranged from a few thousand dollars up to $6 million between 2011 and 2019. The felony charges that these individuals face are heavy and have fallen onto mainly Singer, the parents, coaches, and specific test-prep individuals.


As the US Attorney Andrew Lelling stated,

"This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I'll add that there will not be a separate criminal justice system either."


What’s more important, however, is to determine how the system ought to change and what ought to be done moving forward. The potential reality we may be facing is the idea that the educational system is no longer a meritocracy but rather one in which individuals can buy or cheat their way into colleges through wealth. This happens in ways that we may not even recognize, through legal routes such as prep courses and out of school tutorings and extracurriculars as well which all require wealth and all hike up the appearance of an application.


Now, in the midst of this issue, it is important to address college prestige as well. Is the value of a college name even worth any amount of fraud or cheating? Data from U.S. News suggests otherwise. The highest median starting salary is $78,400 from college grads of California Institute of Technology. This is followed closely by MIT which has a median starting salary of $76,900 and Stanford which has a starting median salary of $70,300. These numbers compare to the national median salary of around $50,000 for new college graduates.


Overall, the prestige of a school has minor benefits in terms of new graduate salary but as we have seen how this situation played out, it is evident that character and ethics may be more essential for success.