Today’s news of a massive college admissions scam that has ensnared at least 40 people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, has a lot of people asking the same question: Why didn’t these rich parents just make a fat donation to the schools to get their kids admitted?
It’s an age-old tradition that has resulted in many underperforming and undeserving rich kids winning admission to universities they couldn’t have gotten into on their own. And one beneficiary is currently working in the White House.
As Daniel Golden reported in his 2006 book, Jared Kushner — son-in-law of Donald Trump, husband of Ivanka Trump, and son of Charles Kushner — was accepted into Harvard shortly after his father pledged $2.5 million to the school. Writing for ProPublica in 2016, Golden noted that Kushner’s high-school teachers didn’t think he was Harvard material:
“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former official at the Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not.”
Golden goes on to detail how he uncovered a scheme in which “the rich buy their under-achieving children’s way into elite universities with massive, tax-deductible donations.” He started with a list of the more than 400 members of Harvard’s Committee on University Resources, a group of wealthy donors who were regularly treated like royalty in Cambridge. After poring over records to determine if the children of these donors had eventually gone to Harvard, Golden found that of “the 400-plus tycoons on Harvard’s list — which included people who were childless or too young to have college-age offspring — more than half had sent at least one child to the university.”
And unlike the scheme that came to light today, it was all legal.