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Martin Center Column Highlights Rot Within Prestigious Colleges

Megan Zogby writes for the Martin Center about serious problems plaguing high-profile institutions of higher learning.

Parents will go to all sorts of lengths to give their children a leg up. In Guilty Admissions: The Bribes, Favors, and Phones Behind the College Cheating Scandal, journalist Nicole LaPorte digs into how and why parents decided to work with the “college counselor” Rick Singer.

LaPorte describes Singer’s strategies to place students in highly competitive universities across the country, such as falsely claiming that they have a learning disability to get extra time on standardized tests. But LaPorte’s writing becomes more interesting when her focus moves away from how Singer did it and onto the well-off neighborhoods of parents and students. Then, her reporting questions the validity of meritocracy, a question that the Martin Center has tackled in the past.

A common link to Singer in LaPorte’s reporting is the elite high schools for the wealthy. IMG Academy, for example, is the “ultralite boarding school for young athletes that’s located on an immaculate six-hundred acre campus in Bradenton, Florida.” LaPorte notes it is “as much of a five-star luxury resort for aspiring recruits as it is a cutting-edge training facility.” Graduates reliably get into the top American universities.

Tuition? About $80,000 per year.

Yet, for all the money and the prestigious college acceptances, the school has a light touch when educating students, according to a former teacher at IMG. And parents prefer it that way. If students received low grades or even one below their expectations, “parents would often show up and demand grades to be changed.” Parents aren’t paying for a B. The teacher told LaPorte that, by the end of the argument, “administrators would cede to the parents.”

In one case, a student failed an assignment and, when the teacher refused to give her credit, her parents flew down to complain. Administrators then asked the teacher to “give her credit anyway, because at least she did the assignment.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...