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California is trying to make sure something like "Operation Varsity Blues" never happens again

Democratic state lawmakers unveiled a package of bills that would make it harder for rich kids to buy their way into college.

by Emma Ockerman
Mar 29 2019, 5:57pm

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California is considering making it harder for rich kids to buy their way into college.

Democratic state lawmakers presented a package of six bills Thursday aimed at avoiding another college admissions scandal like “Operation Varsity Blues,” which ensnared more than 30 parents — 25 from California — and five state-based universities, including UCLA and the University of Southern California, earlier this month.

The package of bills would ban preferential treatment for students related to big donors or alumni and alter the long-standing and sometimes loathed “legacy admissions” practice. The proposed legislation would also require college admissions consultants to register with the state, study a phase-out of SAT and ACT testing, audit public universities’ admissions practices, and offer stricter oversight of the athletic recruiting process.

“We’ve all watched in complete disgust by the outright fraud,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Democratic lawmaker from Sacramento, said during a press conference Thursday. “It stings even more because so much of this was based in California.”

Democrats hope to break the sketchy narrative established in the massive scandal, which largely went down in California. Of the 33 families charged with paying the scheme’s ringleader, William Rick Singer, to get their kids into college using fraudulent methods like fake test scores and athletic profiles, 25 were from the Golden State. The arrested also included Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The Department of Justice charged 50 people in all, including college coaches who allegedly accepted bribes and Singer, who billed himself as a private college admissions consultant.

Parents involved in the scam paid Singer between $100,000 and $6.5 million to fake their kids’ tests, draw up alluring but fake athletic profiles, and get their kids a guaranteed spot at elite schools.

Several of the charged parents appeared in a Boston federal courtroom on Friday, including Michelle Janavs, the inventor of “Hot Pockets,” and William McGlashan, a former senior executive at a private equity firm. Rudolph Meredith, a former Yale University soccer coach who accepted bribes to highlight applicants as potential recruits, already pleaded guilty to wire fraud on Thursday.

The slew of arrests drew renewed attention to the methods rich parents use — both illicit and long-accepted — to get their kids into good schools regardless of their academic achievements.

If the laws pass, McCarty said universities found breaking the rules could be bumped from student aid grant programs. The University of California already audits its admissions process and doesn’t set aside admissions slots for legacy students or the kids of donors.

“We are going to scrub this and see what we can do to improve our processes and … make it very difficult for anyone to take advantage of our system,” the University of California’s chief audit officer, Alex Bustamante, told CALmatters.

Cover image: In this Aug. 13, 2017 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin, center, poses with her daughters Bella, left, and Olivia Jade at the Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

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