As college admissions become more competitive, some families with means seem to be turning to underhanded methods of getting their kids into schools. For instance, the wealthy parents involved in the Varsity Blues admissions scandal earlier this year were charged with fraudulently boosting their children’s applications by obtaining fake athletics profiles and getting ringers to take their kids’ standardized tests, among other things. The parents at the elite D.C. private high school Sidwell Friends spread rumors about other students so their children might seem better in comparison. Now a new scheme described by ProPublica and The Wall Street Journal involves families seemingly machinating to get an unfair leg up in paying for a coveted seat at a university.
Yesterday, ProPublica and The Wall Street Journal reported on the legal—though ethically dubious—practice of parents in the Chicago suburbs turning over guardianship of their teenage children, typically in their junior or senior year of high school, to less well-off friends or relatives so that the children would qualify for need-based financial aid to help pay for college.
There are several reasons students might have a legitimate need to declare independence from their parents. Perhaps a student’s home situation was so fraught that she no longer lives with or receive financial support from her parents; perhaps she has entered entered the foster-care system, or is a ward of the courts. None of those things were the case in the instances ProPublica and the Journal reported on. As Andy Borst, the director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told ProPublica about the scheme happening at his university: “Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.”