The college cheating scandal that broke on March 12 offended many people, me among them. While some tried to cast this issue as one of privilege or wealth vs middle class, they are wrong. This is a story of ethics, identity, and democracy. The crown jewel of the U.S. is our higher education system, which is really a collection of public and private institutions that both transforms and is transformed by those who attend. Our humanity, our democracy, and our hope is tied to those who attend postsecondary schooling. To cheat one’s way into college is to undermine the millions of students who read, studied, prepped, ran, jumped, swam, cried, clawed, spoke, tested, visited, and applied to college. To cheat is to devalue the currency of advancement, of betterment, of hard work, and of merit. To cheat is to miss the opportunity for college planning to be that final flight check before one’s child leaves the nest, the time when we are readying our children for independent thinking, of growth, of pushing past even what we ourselves as parents cannot even fathom. These are the students who reinvent our world, creating a future that is beyond our abilities, and to upset this system and process is to cannibalize our truth.
Speaking of truth and those who suffer as a result of this cheating mindset, a fellow Boston University alumnus Bolpar Vinh-Doyle had the following to say: I am so offended by the celebrity cheating scandal that broke yesterday. I am offended as a person with a learning disability who studied eight hours a day outside of class time to get into BU. Faking having a learning disability to get extra time on exams is despicable. I am offended as a former Division I athlete, who ran through snow storms, rain and sometimes what felt like hell to earn opportunities – for scholarships. There are certain types of work you cannot fake or photoshop. I don’t normally comment on people in the media, but this one hit too close to home for me. Glad the justice department is committed to a fair process in this case.” Your words ring true. I couldn’t agree more. So, why do these challenges even exist here in the U.S. and in other countries?
College planning and college admissions is wildly complicated and more students are applying to more colleges each year.. The stakes are high because our children’s future is at stake, which is why many parents seek out independent college counselors. Our role is to provide individual support to help students find their calling, their vocation, their career, their major, to find a way forward. We are guides helping to provide knowledge and information, but also to listen to the student, and to help them calm the noise around them to hear themselves. Our goal is to help them find their authentic voice and help them find a way to speak out loud, or, as Bono sung, dream out loud.
Independent counselors exist because public and many private high school counselors have such large caseloads, and often have competing priorities about health, wellbeing, and college planning. Many do not intimately know their students, not by choice, but due to how many students they serve. Our role is to supplement and support our schools to help students succeed, teaching the value of hard work, good habits, and careful planning. We are a community of educators with a sole focus on helping students reimagine their own success, not the rules of the process.
One of the worst parts of this cheating scandal is that so many work hard to help improve equity in college admissions. The hard working staff at The College Board and ACT, and those who support equity in admissions, are focused on finding and improving the validity of the tools admission officers have to make fair decisions. Testing is complicated, and it’s not perfect; but in combination with students who are careful in course selection, focusing on rigor, engaging in their school and community through activities of interest, and mindfully pursuing college around interest and passion, admission officers have good data to make better decisions. Remember, the goal is to find the best fitting college, a place that will shepherd your child’s growth for the next chapter in their lives. Teaching them how to deal with rejection is an important growth opportunity. Teaching them to understand that in life, we do not always get what we want, when we want it, is important for character development. Teaching them to understand and appreciate that their job is to plan the year, plan the quarter, and then live the day, is critical. They will know they did all they could, and that where they go is where they belong, which is something to which parents should, and do, aspire. To cheat is to give into fear, which is the core of what motivates those to make wrong choices. This is a teachable moment for all students, parents, and education professionals to remember not only who we are, but who we want to be, and celebrate the process that helps our children become their best self.
Founder and Educator, F. Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D.