A New Higher Education Scam

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John W. Dysart, President, The Dysart Group

Much has been reported in recent months regarding the cheating scandals designed to provide admission to selective colleges and universities. Many were shocked to learn that parents essentially bribed coaches and administrators to gain admission for their children into elite institutions.

Cheating is always reprehensible, but the impact of the schemes was essentially denying admission to otherwise deserving students. Who knows how many qualified applicants were turned away? We may never know the real extent of such ploys. We all thought we had now heard it all.
Reports in Illinois surfaced regarding parents who have given up guardianship of their children during their junior or senior year in high school so that the students could claim independence for financial aid classification and game the system for increased eligibility for need-based aid. Independent status means that parent income and assets are not included in the calculation for financial aid eligibility. While the practice may not have been technically illegal, it is morally corrupt.

The tactic depletes the available funds for both federal and state need-based financial aid. The state need-based grant in Illinois (MAP) is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Thousands of needy students are denied these awards each year as the money is depleted. Further, it taps the scarce institutionally funded resources available to provide access offered by colleges and universities.

Parents implicated in the scam included doctors and lawyers, real estate agents and education professionals. Parents were often informed of the strategy by “college consultants."

New regulations will need to be written for federal financial aid and states are likely going to need to make changes in state supported scholarships and grants in order to address guardianship changes. While we can all agree that college is expensive, manipulating the system to cheat your way to additional funds while depriving the same funds to needy families is inexcusable.


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