Special Admits or Secret Admits: Transparency in College Admissions


Jeanne Gosselin has more than 30 years of experience in the higher education marketplace. She has served in various roles within admissions, enrollment, and enrollment marketing at such institutions as Hofstra University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, SUNY Cortland, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and Bay Path University. Jeanne holds a B.A. in English Communications from North Adams State College and an M.S. Ed. from Hofstra University. Her blog represents her own professional and personal thinking on the admissions scandal issue and does not reflect the collective views of Paskill Stapleton & Lord.

Most colleges set aside a number of admissions for legacy, athletic, talent, and donor admissions. Open admission and non-selective colleges do not need to set spots aside, but may make some scholarships available. Selective or non-selective colleges have the right to decide who they will enroll.

Prominent headlines would suggest that maybe these types of admissions are suspect. As someone who has been in this field for over 30 years, I can tell you that the decision for these special admissions is not made lightly. For most colleges, it is agreed upon by the President’s Cabinet and acknowledged by the Board. Often the total number of special admits is not widely known, it is known only to the top leadership of the college. Maybe the practice would not be as suspect if there was more transparency.

A post on LinkedIn that was circulated widely suggested that this be taken one step further: a lottery.

A LinkedIn post — by an official of the Harvard Management Company (which manages the Harvard University endowment, the largest in the world) — shared an idea about college admissions:

“Why do we have a system where wealthy parents have to make shady payments to even more shady intermediaries to get their kids into college? Why don’t the colleges just auction off a certain number of spots each year?”

The idea is “an honest question,” wrote Michael Cappucci, a senior vice president at the Harvard Management Company. He contrasted the transparency of an auction in which anyone who could afford to do so could compete with the “charade” of the status quo. The post disappeared, but not before The Boston Globe and other media outlets noticed it and shared the quotes.

My question is, does transparency make it right? In regards to the common practice of allowing for special admits, my sense is that it would not be suspect if the practice was more widely known. On the other hand a lottery for the wealthy to buy their children seats at the most prestigious schools, to me crosses the line. It crosses the line of ethics because it says that admission is not based on anything but the ability to pay. The students offered admission because of talent bring something to the university. We may not all agree on what talents are worthy of an admission to any college, but it is a talent that is being rewarded. The highest-bid admission being promoted is just rewarding the uber-wealthy parent as it has nothing to do with the young person making the application.

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Jeanne Gosselin,

Born and raised in the Northeast, Jeanne graduated with a B.A. from North Adams State College and an M.S.Ed. from Hofstra University. "The world of digital communication and social media gives us so much to work with when approaching prospects. The tricky part is finding a way to have real conversations."