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Cheating 101

The Operation Varsity Blues Scandal

While many high schoolers are spending endless amounts of time and energy to try and earn a spot at their dream colleges, what happens when highly privileged kids have parents willing to literally buy them an admission letter?

Last month, news broke that the federal Justice Department charged 50 people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, for taking part in what's been dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat college admissions standards to get their children into highly-competitive schools, such as the University of Southern California.

At the center of the scandal is William "Rick" Singer, owner of the Edge College & Career Network, and chief executive of the Key Worldwide Foundation, who facilitated the transactions between the families and people representing the schools.

The parents allegedly paid the consultant big bucks — Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly shelled out $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team, despite the fact that the girls never participated in the rowing sport.

Huffman is accused of making a "charitable contribution" of $15,000 to ensure her child scored well on the SATs.

The scheme has been making headlines for weeks, with Loughlin and Huffman dropped from acting jobs and accused of horrible parenting. But despite the talk of what the parents did to ensure their children got a top-notch education, one aspect of the case that hasn't been talked about much is what they could have done differently.

"I'm unable to relate to what I'm reading. I'm simply shocked at this behavior," said Frances Kweller, an education and college admissions expert and the founder of Kweller Prep, a learning incubator specializing in advanced test preparation and college admissions and applications in New York City.

Kweller said she wonders why those parents who chose to cheat the system went that route, instead of choosing to get academic support for the students. "There are so many opportunities and ways to prepare for college," Kweller said. "Why not invest that money into their own child? No tutoring program I know of charges that much money and I work in New York City.They should have put their kids into a prep school or gotten them a tutor."

Kweller said most parents should be able to tell whether or not their children are prepared for college before they get to the admission process. "I think the years leading to college are where you are going to know if they can handle the pressure," Kweller said. "Can they successfully juggle schoolwork and athletics? Are they volunteering in the community? Your grades in high school are a great predictor of whether or not you will survive in a college environment."

Kweller said she was amazed at Loughlin's daughter, who has her own YouTube channel where she posted videos from her dorm room at USC, admitting that she "didn't know how much" class she would attend because all she was looking forward to were "game days" and "partying."

"I watched that video. Look at her dorm room. She had a lot of pillows and makeup, but where are her books?” Kweller wondered. "That's not what a dorm room is supposed to look like. This is not someone who belongs in college. She never had to earn her seat."

High school students need to realize college is serious business and not to be taken lightly. "In our learning environment, it's understood the kids will spend several hours per week preparing," Kweller said. "There's no question among our student body about how sincere their efforts are in applying for college."

Some high school students who aren't disciplined to study and focused on learning may not be ready for a university. "Some will probably do well at a community college for two years," Kweller said. "They have to develop a base of good study skills."

She said parents who push their children into college when they aren't ready aren't doing them any favors. "Everyone does not have to go to college," Kweller said, adding that taking a year after high school to decide the next step may be wise in some cases.

"It's a great time to explore," Kweller said. "Lots of corporations will take students in just for gap-year work."

Kweller said she questions the parents who bought their child's passage to college. "Clearly, these parents have so little faith in their own children. What are they teaching their kids about integrity? They've never learned how to not cheat. This is educational neglect."

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Tags: Education, Featured Story, Parenting, Tweens & Teens

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