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article imageOp-Ed: Buy a college place, wreck your life? That's how it works, guys

By Paul Wallis     Mar 15, 2019 in Business
New York - The fury about sneaky paid college admissions is missing a lot of very serious points. This type of college entry can be exactly the WRONG thing to do, for so many reasons, it deserves a look.
This story is generating so much heat it’s quite unique. The American college system is so competitive, and so expensive, that the fan is now getting hit with an overload of anger. Colleges are getting a lot of flak, too, understandably, and rightly, to a degree, if you’ll excuse the pun.
The rights and wrongs of the legal and academic issues are obvious enough. What’s not obvious is that there are some real, very tricky, and very dangerous risks.
I worked for many years in the international careers market, and among the most dissatisfied and utterly lost people I saw were United States college grads. College students, particularly the dropouts, were ironically second on the list, but had much the same issues. Yes, there’s a pattern to this, and it needs to be understood.
What’s so wrong about it? Everything.
Let’s start with the basics:
1. A kid who otherwise would not gain entry on merit is put into a very demanding environment, surrounded by people who did make it on merit.
2. The kid is unlikely to have the depth of skills to match the requirements of the degree.
3. The placement may well have been made at the expense of other options where the kid has a much stronger skill set. That talent goes begging while this farcical placement is carried out.
4. The forecast for people who can’t handle basic entry level requirements is abysmal.
5. Why would someone who can’t even meet the entry requirements suddenly become a great student? Those four years are likely to be hell or worse.
6. Academic professionals do NOT like inadequate or lazy students, with good reason. They’re a waste of time and undeserved attention which could be spent on better students, to start with.
7. The inevitable poor performance will be totally counterproductive. The student, already classed as lousy, will be lost in a nasty cycle of failure. The usual response is to drop out, wasting money, time, and adding misery. The kid will be convinced they’re a failure on a much too persona level, and that’s very serious damage to anyone that age.
8. The dummies are instant targets in any academic environment. Even the most gung-ho, insensitive sports scholars don’t like being considered dumb, let alone proven dumb. “Wanna buy a brain?” is the more likely social position, and with all this publicity, it’ll be open season on anyone accused of buying a place in college.
Parental train wrecks, explained
While I’m sure these people were just trying to help their kids – However ineptly: What always happens when a kid fails? It’s a real disaster. The likely scenario is that the person responsible for them being wherever the asteroid strike occurred, even on much less important matters, will be blamed. All the good intentions, as well as the money, will be lost and wasted.
Try thinking of it this way, before you make a possibly fatal move:
(a) If you put a kid in to a situation they obviously can’t handle, it IS your fault.
(b) When it comes to qualifications, paying for placement is setting them up to lose, and lose badly. You really couldn’t do better in that regard.
(c) How can you possibly believe they can succeed in an area where they haven’t even shown the core skills. Then you expect them to survive four years, maybe six, in that situation?
(d) What about the things they ARE good at, where they can perform well and build confidence?
(e) College degrees are NOT instant recipes for success. The hype is bordering on truly criminal in that sense. One Masters level job I’ve seen included cleaning storerooms and “managing deliveries”, for a princely $20 an hour. Success? Nothing like it.
A system that needs to look at itself very hard indeed
In cultural terms, this situation is all too understandable. This is the murderously competitive American college system. The American Way is to compete, fight hard, and use all your advantages. You want the best for your kids. It really is the default approach to getting what you want.
…Except in this case, it can’t work. Colleges should realize that they are easy marks in ways they may or may not quite understand. OK, the Old Ivy needs watering with a bit more liquidity, but let’s face it, those degrees from the high prestige colleges are supposed to MEAN something.
“Buy a degree for an idiot” instantly devalues not just the affected colleges, but the entire system. The sheer brutality of the academic world in many of its less adorable incarnations has no mercy. Against hard case super-competent professionals, these kids don’t stand a chance, professionally.
Take the hint, and check out your whole admissions streams, preferably in forensic detail. Looks like you’ve got more problems than are ever likely to be mentioned.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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