Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has reportedly opened an investigation into several universities at the heart of the college admissions bribery scandal. As reported by Politico, citing federal officials with inside access, the investigation from the Department of Education (DOE) will consider whether these universities violated “rules governing the Federal student financial aid programs” or “any other applicable laws.”
Earlier this month, federal prosecutors charged 50 individuals — from Hollywood’s elitists to their education administrators and private consultants — for having been implicated in a scheme to buy admissions to the country’s top universities.
The FBI aptly titled this: Operation Varsity Blues.
The DOE sent letters to the presidents of the implicated colleges — such as Yale, UCLA, Stanford, Wake Forest University, San Diego, Georgetown, Texas, and Southern California — to inform the accused of a “preliminary investigation” to take place over the next few months. The letters reportedly described how universities could face penalties if there’s evidence of violating federal education regulations, which is likely due to the charging documents proving the scandal as reality. These penalties range from limiting access to Pell Grants and federal student loans, both of which are necessary subsidies which could negatively effect future admission rates to these colleges.
“The allegations made and evidence cited by the Department of Justice raise questions about whether your institution is fully meeting its obligations,” Devos and her DOE officials stated per Politico. “Every student deserves to be considered on their individual merits when applying to college, and it’s disgraceful to see anyone breaking the law to give their children an advantage over others. The department is looking closely at this issue and working to determine if any of our regulations have been violated.”
Those charged with breaking the law include Hollywood actors Lori Loughlin (Full House) and Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives). Loughlin reportedly paid over $500,000 in bribes to help her daughter, YouTuber Olivia Jade, pose as an athletic recruit in order to receive admission to the University of Southern California. This came as a surprise to uncorrupt administrators wondering why their latest star athlete was neither attending classes or sports events which guaranteed her entry in the first place.
Huffman, on the other hand, abused the SAT exam system by paying over $15,000 for someone to forge her daughter’s answers for a passing grade. These two tactics were repeated in varying degrees across cases where 30 other parents were charged. Under official DOE regulations, these universities are legally obligated to alert the department of “any credible information indicating that an employee” or an associating agent of the institution has engaged in fraud, misrepresentation, racketeering or other illegal actions which abuse federal student aid programs across the nation.
The DOE has also warned universities that federal officials can impose sanctions on schools receiving federal funding that engage in “substantial misrepresentation about the nature of its educational programs”, according to Politico’s review of the letter. To ensure accountability against these universities, the DOE investigation will supposedly require universities to release a slew of documents within the next 30 days, from marketing and promotional materials, statements to organizations ranking schools (ie, the U.S. News and World Report) to internal policies and procedures related to admissions, especially those relating to recruited athletes.
The investigation is reportedly being conducted through the DOE’s own Student Aid Enforcement Unit, an Obama-era transparency division used to target abuses by (for-profit) colleges, which has the ability to issue subpoenas. This power grants federal investigators the ability to identify “the names of all students whose admission” was “mentioned in the allegations raised in the Department of Justice’s investigation” alongside internal documents as to how administrators approved these students in good conscience. Even under DeVos, a biased proponent of for-profit colleges, some ethics remain practised.
This is somewhat consistent with President Trump’s handling of college admissions investigations. Earlier this year, the Justice Department opened reviews of Harvard and Yale over allegations of discrimination against Asian American students under their admissions processes. The administration also backed a lawsuit against Harvard from the Students for Fair Admissions, a political action group founded by conservatives committed to “ending all racist enrolment tactics within the United States educational system.” These aren’t simple cases of reactionary politics, opposing affirmative action to spite a particular race, but a necessary call to end arbitrary practices which “significantly dragged down” people’s futures based on “personality output” rather than actual academic merit. The same systemic skepticism can also apply to the rich — as it should.
“We are still researching and looking into how the department might interface with this,” DeVos said during her interview with Fox News earlier this week. “Obviously, this is a Department of Justice operation, but we are looking very closely at it, and we’ll see if any of the regulations that we are responsible for have been broken. This is a matter that all Americans want things to be fair. And they’re clearly not. This goes to K-12 education as well, and we don’t have the same opportunities for all students in K-12 education, we don’t in higher education. And that’s one of the things this administration is really advocating for: equal opportunity for all students.”