There’s a Larger Lie Beyond the College Admissions Bribery Case

Time | 3/14/2019 | Staff
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Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University and the author of The Case Against Education.

The FBI charged a list of well-heeled parents, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, with fraud on March 12. Their alleged goal: to get their kids into top schools, including Yale and Stanford. The public reactions ranged from outrage to cynicism. The outrage: These parents think they can buy their kids anything. The cynicism: These parents could have done the same thing legally by “charitably” funding a new building or two. All this aside, the admissions scandal is an opportunity to separate the lofty mythology of college from the sordid reality. Despite the grand aspirations that students avow on their admission essays, their overriding goal is not enlightenment, but status.

Parents - Kids - SAT - Scores - Child

Consider why these parents would even desire to fake their kids’ SAT scores. We can imagine them thinking, I desperately want my child to master mathematics, writing and history — and no one teaches math, writing and history like Yale does! But we all know this is fanciful. People don’t cheat because they want to learn more. They cheat to get a diploma from Yale or Stanford — modernity’s preferred passport to great careers and high society.

What, then, is the point of sneaking into an elite school, if you lack the ability to master the material? If the cheaters planned to major in one of the rare subjects with clear standards and well-defined career paths — like computer science, electrical engineering or chemistry — this would be a show-stopping question. Most majors, however, ask little of their students — and get less. Standards were higher in the 1960s, when typical college students toiled about 40 hours a week. Today, however, students work only two-thirds as hard. Full-time college has become a part-time job.

If...
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