In the wake of a college admissions bribery scandal, several students last week sued eight elite universities for passing them over to admit the less-qualified children of the wealthy. But legal experts say justice could be hard to come by for students who feel schools treated them unfairly because they weren’t rich.
“It’s tough to see these [cases] succeeding,” said Kyle McEntee, an attorney and public policy expert who works for reforms in law school education. He also stated the lawsuit “reeks of opportunism.”
The reckoning for the rich and famous parents accused of bribery and corruption began last week when authorities charged at least nine college athletic coaches and 33 parents with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, some as much as $6.5 million, to guarantee their children’s admission into top schools like Yale and Georgetown. The scam’s ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, paid coaches and testing companies to make the students look like star athletes or young geniuses. The implicated parents include actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, both of whom were arrested and released on bail last week.
Students who didn’t get into the schools of their choice want the colleges to face consequences, too, for admitting students from wealthy families under false pretenses. But producing enough evidence to tie the schools to the fraud will be difficult, Louisiana State University law professor Joy Blanchard said: “They won’t be able to prove that the universities were behind some grand scheme.”
Students Tyler Bendis and Nicholas Johnson, along with two of their parents, filed suit Friday in San Jose, Calif. Both Bendis and Johnson say they had competitive high school grades, SAT scores, and athletic experience. Stanford, UCLA, and the University of San Diego denied Bendis admission, and Johnson failed to make the cut at Stanford, Yale, and the University of Texas at Austin. All five of those universities are named in the lawsuit, as well as Georgetown, the University of Southern California, and Wake Forest.
Bendis and Johnson ended up enrolling in other schools—Bendis at an Orange County, Calif., community college and Johnson at Rutgers. They said the universities that rejected them promised a fair admissions process but the cheating scandal revealed an abjectly unfair system. The lawsuit claims to represent every one of the thousands of prospective students who applied between 2012 and 2018, paid an application fee, and were rejected by one of the named schools.
The return of the $50–$100 application fees is probably all anyone will recover, said David Levine, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. “The big money is unlikely to be there,” he said.
Others are suing, too. Last Wednesday, former Oakland Unified School District teacher Jennifer Toy and her son Joshua filed a $500 billion lawsuit against 32 parents, Singer, and nine coaches and test administrators. Toy said the massive cheating scandal squeezed out students like her son, who had a 4.2 GPA.
“I always taught my students that study and hard work was the best way to get into a good college,” Toy said in court filings. “I always taught my students to be honest and forthright and that cheating was wrong.”