By: Christy Grellas

I am one of the many Americans who is staying up to date with the college admissions scandal. It combines celebrities, elite universities, and fraud into a perfect media storm. Throughout the scandal, many wealthy parents across the United States paid Rick Singer roughly $25 million, in total, to get their children admitted through Singer’s “side door.” Lori Loughlin, an actress known for her television role on Full House, faces up to forty years in prison for conspiracy charges because she allegedly posed her daughters as crew team recruits to get them admitted to the University of Southern California.

AB 1312, the College Consultants Act, strives to make the college admissions process transparent by holding private college consultants accountable for their services. Historically, state and federal governments have not kept track of or classified independent educational consultants as a specialized professional group. Although California enacted the College Consultants Act to bring transparency to the college consultant profession, societal and institutional obstacles will impede the law’s ability to accomplish its goal—equal opportunity. Three key societal elements contributed to the scandal: parents, independent college consultants, and socioeconomic status. As a consequence of today’s meritocracy, being a quote-unquote good parent can conflict with being a good citizen. Independent college consultants profit from the inequitable—but legal—ways parents can purchase opportunity in the college admissions process.

This particular scandal comes in a higher education admissions environment that already feels like a rat race to many would-be college applicants. Many schools, in an effort to improve their rankings and applicant pools, find inventive ways to manipulate their data. For example, to improve standardized test score medians, schools give out more merit-based aid. But, that comes at the expense of students who require need-based aid. That shift creates an unfair advantage because wealthy families can afford college consultants who prepare their clients for standardized tests, consequently increasing the students’ scores. Ultimately, the college admissions system can deny deserving, but less affluent, students the benefits of a top education.

Misplaced meritocracy rewards having the money to access additional resources rather than the hard work and individual aptitude of students. College consultants capitalize on the resources and privileges wealthy families have at their fingertips. Their industry is made possible by elite universities running admissions systems that favor students with financial means rather than giving equal consideration to all applicants from all walks of life. The triple threat of misplaced meritocracy, college consultants, and unfair admission systems is exacerbated by socioeconomic disadvantages, making the College Consultants Act’s goal to promote equal admissions opportunity an unlikely feat. The College Consultants Act’s Task Force may eventually provide a more even playing field for all students applying to colleges and universities, but it has no binding authority yet. The College Consultants Act is a step in the right direction for equal opportunity in higher education, but it may not be sufficient to correct systemic social and institutional inequalities.

You can subscribe to the In Session podcast and listen to my broader conversation about AB 1312 and related legislation with Thomas Gerhart on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, or on your favorite podcast app.