The College Admissions Scandal and Elite Colleges

By General Education Advice

“Because people care.  So you should too.”  Dr. Spady, one of my graduate school deans said to a younger, more idealistic, and more naive me.  I was in an Ivy league law school and discussing getting a second Ivy league degree with Dr. Spady who ran the Fels School of Government.  He was convincing me to put in the extra work after I had said something along the lines of my abilities being the same regardless if I added another elite credential.

“Do you think I got here based only on my abilities?” he continued and then told me his story,  which I had heard before because he was legendary at Penn.

Jim Spady was from a working class town in New Jersey.  His father had a sixth grade education and worked at the local factory.  His mom did too and also was not a high school graduate.  He only went to college because some kindly educators noted that he had the highest CTBS scores (similar to Connecticut mastery tests) in the region.  After earning a law degree from Columbia and a double Phd from Harvard, he had an illustrious career, serving as Chief of Staff for the Mayor of New York City and then for the Governor of New Jersey.

“Do you think anyone would have hired me for those positions if I didn’t have elite colleges on my resume?”

I took Dr. Spady’s advice and earned a dual J.D.-M.G.A from Penn.  The latter was not necessary for my legal career but did help get me hired for some high level government work and then later helped me get hired as a college professor.

I’m still idealistic.  I don’t like that the prestige of one’s college is so disproportionately significant in both the job market and our perceptions of young adults.  But consider the admissions scandal.  Those involved have absolutely no financial need to ensure that their children attend elite colleges.  Just today, Yale rescinded the admission of a student whose family paid $1.2 million in bribes to its disgraced ex-soccer coach.  That family could have simply given the money to their child and, of course, a lot more to set the child up in business.  Yet, they perceive the Yale degree to be worth it.

While I don’t know if I fully embrace Dr. Spady’ss advice that “people care, so should you”, I also understand the world we live in and what’s important to help our children navigate it effectively.