USC’s post-scandal action must include reform

In the wake of the college admissions scandal, USC and the universities involved are still scrambling to pick up the pieces. The once mysterious and overlooked admissions process is now under national scrutiny, as prospective students around the country wonder whether their application will be thrown out in favor of those like Olivia Jade Giannulli.

Though USC has taken several measures in an attempt to rectify the damage already done, a more systematic approach is necessary to encourage long-term improvement to the admissions process.

So far, changes have included firing senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, both associated with the scheme. Former faculty member Homayoun Zadeh of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry was also placed on leave for paying a college consultant $100,000 to bribe an administrator from the athletic department to admit his daughter as a lacrosse player, even though she does not play the sport. 

Actress Lori Loughlin’s daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli, were initially accepted to USC as fake rowing recruits after she and her husband Mossimo paid $500,000 at the request of Operation Varsity Blues mastermind William “Rick” Singer. They were unenrolled from the University, confirmed in October. The University has said it will fully cooperate in the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation.

However, steps like these, while effective in addressing the immediate fallout as a result of the scandal, ultimately fall short of putting an end to the issue entirely. Firing, rescinding and prosecuting the individuals involved is like cutting some of the branches off an infected tree and expecting it to get better. Corruption in the college admissions process is more deep-rooted than that, and it will continue to exist so long as socioeconomic inequity remains in the higher education system.

In a March letter addressed to the USC community, Interim President Wanda Austin said that the University was in the process of conducting an internal investigation into the scandal. She said USC would also determine an appropriate way to redirect the money received in connection with the scandal to fund scholarships for underprivileged students. This is a more effective way to go about addressing the scandal as it tackles the underlying problem within the admissions process: socioeconomic inequity. 

Socioeconomic inequity in the higher education system leaves some students able to pay their way into college and others without the resources to get there at all. It seems everything that a student might use to strengthen their application — from standardized test scores to extracurriculars — can be paid for with money, and USC should ensure that this does not increase a student’s chance of admission.

In a letter a month later, Austin explained that USC’s internal investigations were continuing, and she announced the three changes made to the review of student-athlete applications. One measure includes a three-level approval system in which each student-athlete’s file must be reviewed by the head coach, the senior sports administrator and the USC Office of Athletics Compliance before it is forwarded to admissions. 

This should prevent fabricated athletic applications from entering the applicant pool. It is systematic reforms like these that will ensure that all students accepted to USC are up to par with the academic standards that the University claims to uphold.

If it were only a matter of individuals doing bad things, the issue would be resolved once those who committed the crime are punished. But the problems will persist, not because of the poor choices of these individuals, but because our society allows — even encourages — these individuals to make poor choices. Though the scandal brought to light the illegal ways in which the wealthy were cheating the system, there are legal means through which they have been able to buy their children’s way into college for decades.

As a next step, USC should consider phasing out the legacy system. USC’s Class of 2023 includes 17% legacy students or “Scions,” which is two percentage points greater than the percentage of first-generation college students. Legacy status is also considered in the application process for those who would like to transfer to the University through the Trojan Transfer Plan. 

The legacy system potentially undermines the diversity that USC promotes, as accepted Scions are repeatedly pulled from the same families and backgrounds. It is also disadvantageous to those of low socioeconomic status because they are often not already a part of the Trojan Family network.

Going forward, USC must show that even if wealthy parents continue to try to buy their children’s way into college, which they likely will, it is an institution that does not allow this. The University should not play into society’s tendency to favor the upper class but should instead acknowledge and reward hard work and academic and athletic merit.