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The Hill: College admissions scandal can drive reform

Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program, outlines four steps that would help colleges even the admissions playing field.

The latest news from the ongoing college admissions scandal — multi-million-dollar payments and an international web of consulting firms providing access to elite schools — emerged shortly after universities and colleges wrapped up the admissions process for this fall’s incoming freshmen. For most students the road to college did not include blatant cheating on admissions tests, doctored photos of faux athletes and high price tags of deception.

Even if admissions fraud isn’t the norm, the revelations point to two serious problems. First is the fact that admissions processes are open to fraud, and several colleges have already said they will be taking steps to prevent it. This is good news, if colleges audit their admissions processes and put controls in place akin to those used to check financial practices. Reforms must go deeper than revoking the unchecked recruitment authority given to athletic coaches.

But what’s even more important — for students themselves, and for a nation that needs all its citizens to have access to opportunity — is that institutional leaders address practices that perpetuate privilege. While the colleges and universities implicated in the scandal enroll a very small fraction of students, less than 5 percent of our nation’s 16 million undergraduates, they also offer outsized opportunity for rewarding careers and leadership positions to those fortunate enough to gain access. And recent research shows that at some of the most selective colleges and universities, as many students come from the top 1 percent of the U.S. income distribution as from the bottom 60 percent.