Updated at 11:53 a.m. ET on March 14, 2019.
You are shocked—shocked—I know. According to the FBI, a network of 33 wealthy parents engaged in a massive fraud to buy places for their children at elite colleges. Didn’t they realize that there are many perfectly legal ways to do that?
You can hire a legitimate college counselor for $10,000 and up. You can get test prep for anything from $120 to $375 an hour. You can buy personal coaches, fencing equipment, and squash-club memberships, often for less than the price of a Sub-Zero refrigerator. You can arrange for unpaid internships that will allow Junior to shine as a true humanitarian. You can game your way into a great private school—it’s so much easier to play the angles in kindergarten or sixth grade than in college admissions. If all else fails, you can just make a big donation to the school of your choice.
Have the rich gotten dumber? Or are they getting cheaper? Actually, the affidavit suggests that there are two deeply connected structural problems. The first is that the price of admission has gone up. The second is that the moral center of the meritocracy has collapsed.
Back in 1998, buying a spot at Harvard cost $2.5 million—or at least that’s what the case of Jared Kushner suggests, according to reporting from ProPublica’s Daniel Golden.* But in this affidavit, William Singer—identified as “Cooperating Witness 1”—informs one of his parental conspirators that it takes “in the many millions” now to accomplish the same trick. Much more sensible to fork over something between $400,000 and $1.2 million, as Singer’s clients allegedly did.