[3/18/19] – Elite College Admissions Fraud Case

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents arrested at least 50 people regarding their connection to a massive college admissions fraud case in the United States. Rich and famous families allegedly gave cash bribes to admissions representatives, standardized test proctors, coaches, and more in an effort to secure their children’s admission to elite American universities. At the center of the conspiracy is William Singer, who had been working with investigators since September. No students are currently charged in this case. Several other students are currently filing suits against the elite schools for devaluing their degree from the institution and repayment of their application fees and more.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Elite College Admissions Fraud Case

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain the relativity of deviance in the context of the elite college admissions fraud case.

LO2: Discuss how this case challenges the theory of meritocracy as it applies to education.

LO3: Apply multiple sociological theories to understand and explain the relationship among social factors involved in this case.






  1. From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, how might this case influence the perceived value of the institutions implicated in the case? How might people who have attended these universities be viewed by their peers? Why might the suspicion of impropriety potentially complicate any interaction involving discussion of their educational experience?
  2. From a critical-race perspective, how does this case challenge arguments against affirmative action that focus on a disproportionate number of black and Latino students being offered admission and taking the place of more qualified students? Why might the final adjudication of this case be potentially helpful and harmful for racialized and oppressed populations endeavoring to navigate the higher education system in the United States? Why might the suspicion of gaining access to education not be applied to whites in elite colleges and universities? Who benefits the most from this trend? Who suffers the most? What can be done to change it?
  3. From a conflict perspective, what does this case reveal about the systemic inequality that exists in higher education in the United States? How does it challenge the theory of meritocracy in education? How does the culture of higher education in the United States need to change? What social structures have served to support the perpetuation of this practice? How might WEB DuBois view this case?
  4. How does the commodification of education serve to limit access to quality education for people of lower socioeconomic status? If the best possible education is for sale to the highest bidder, how does that serve to disadvantage those without access to vast financial assets? How might this serve to further segregate schools economically? How might the hidden curriculum at colleges and universities serve to reinforce this segregation? How do standardized tests factor into this debate?
  5. Why might parents resort to this behavior? Should the students be held accountable, too? What does this say about the current social construction of higher education in the United States? What pressures are families under to send their children to college? What informal sanctions exist that work to control the behaviors of American parents? What formal sanctions are appropriate for these charges? Keep in mind, a woman in Ohio in 2012 was sentenced to 5 years in prison for falsifying her home address in an effort to send her child to an elite school.

Current Events Quiz

A _______ theorist would most likely be interested in investigating how this case increases opportunities for educational inequality to be experienced by historically marginalized groups in education.
a. Conflict
b. Structural-Functional
c. Symbolic-Interaction
d. Discrimination

“All students are given equal access to higher education based on the accomplishments they’ve made in life” is a basic assumption of the existence of the meritocracy. Which of the following sociological theories does this assumption most align with?
a. Rational-Choice
b. Social Control
c. Structural-Functional
d. Feminist

University officials accepting bribes in order to admit students who are unqualified and discriminating against others because they do not have access to the financial resources is considered _______.
a. racism
b. discrimination
c. disparities
d. institutionalized discrimination


Photo credit: Brion Vibber


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