- The University of California System plans to strengthen its admissions processes after completing the first phase of an internal audit launched after one of its 10 campuses was implicated in the recent nationwide college bribery scandal.
- To reduce the chance of admissions fraud, the audit recommends each campus bolster application verification; craft conflict of interest policies; enhance monitoring of student-athletes; and prohibit donations and legacy status from influencing admissions decisions.
- UC System President Janet Napolitano asked the system's chancellors to "develop campus-specific plans" to implement the recommendations immediately, according to a statement.
The men's soccer coach at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was among those implicated in a nationwide scheme earlier this year in which wealthy parents paid to bribe college officials to secure slots for their children at elite colleges.
Federal prosecutors allege Jorge Salcedo, who has since resigned, accepted $200,000 in exchange for helping enroll two students with fake athletics profiles. He is among nearly a dozen coaches swept up in the massive scheme.
The incident has also brought renewed attention to the outsized influence that athletics — which has been described as a "side door" into college — has in admissions. That has critical implications for college equity, as low-income applicants do not have the same access to expensive sports programs or private schools that children of wealthier parents do, which often help students qualify for the coveted spots.
"If you're carving out a large portion of your entering class for athletes who are disproportionately nondiverse, you've got a problem," John Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program, said in an interview with Education Dive. Such a system "puts pressure" on the rest of the admissions process to ensure there is diversity, he added.
The UC System's audit makes several recommendations to reduce the risk of student-athlete admissions being a conduit for fraud. They include:
- Monitoring student-athletes to ensure they're actively participating in the programs for which they were recruited.
- Requiring athletics staff to disclose relationships with prospective students and their families.
- Conducting regular, independent reviews of the caps set on the number of students the athletics department can recommend for admission each year.
Several applicants rejected from eight institutions connected to the scheme have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the institutions were negligent in maintaining the security of their admissions process.
The steps the UC System is recommending could be critical to warding off future litigation, said Daniel Prywes, partner at law firm Morris, Manning & Martin.
"The UC System is taking a very methodical and thoughtful approach to try to eliminate vulnerabilities in the admissions process," he said. "If they follow through on that, (it) should go a long way toward removing any credible claim in the future that they'd been negligent in the admissions process."
Even so, some are skeptical colleges can prevent further fraud. Writing for The Atlantic, higher ed expert Jeffrey Selingo pointed out that most admissions officials spend only about eight minutes reviewing each prospective student due to an increase in applicants, leaving no time for fact-checking. Overt fraud can also be difficult to detect.
To that end, the UC System admitted it "found weaknesses" in its verification process. It plans to craft policies for when prospective students are unable to provide supporting documents for claims in their applications.
"Universities need to get the message out that if you put something false on (an application) or exaggerate too much, (it) could jeopardize your admission because those things are going to be looked (at) and the chances of getting caught are real," Prywes said.