Bloomberg Businessweek

the way out of college admissions hell is … video games?


IN STATISTICAL TERMS, this is the golden age of American higher education. More than 1 in 3 Americans has at least a bachelor’s degree, the most ever. Almost 70 percent of high school seniors graduating this spring will go to college in the fall, compared with about half during the mid-1970s.

The benefits of all that education, however, are highly uneven. The campuses of elite colleges remain disproportionately populated by the rich. At selective universities—ones that admit fewer than half of applicants—3 out of 4 students come from the richest quartile of families. According to Opportunity Insights, a research group led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, children from families in the top 1 percent of income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy-plus school—Ivy League plus Duke, MIT, Stanford, and the University of Chicago—than those from the bottom 20 percent.

Put another way: Higher education in America is a racket.

On March 12, just as millions of nervous 12th graders were about to find out where they’ll be spending the next four years, the FBI announced the arrests of 50 people—including two Hollywood actresses, the co-chairman of a prominent global law firm, and the former chief executive officer of Pimco—in a scandal that exposed a culture of fraud at the heart of the college-admissions process. The FBI investigation, called Operation Varsity Blues, found that wealthy Americans are no longer buying spots for their children the old-fashioned way, with seven-figure donations, or finagling them through family legacies and social connections; they’re actively conspiring with criminal fixers, coaches, and college officials to cheat, lie, and bribe their way in, too. As Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, put it in a press conference, “The case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud.”

Getting a college degree has long been integral to the mythic promise of American opportunity. Yet for millions, it’s become exactly that, a myth—and a very expensive myth at that. The average student leaves school carrying $30,000 in debt. More than 40 percent of students who enter college fail to earn a degree within six years, and many of them wind up in the workforce lacking the credentials and practical skills required to get ahead. The U.S. system of higher education isn’t the main source of economic inequality in America. But

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