The scope, scale and cunning of the college admission conspiracy that has embroiled more than 50 elites, including Hollywood stars Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, CEOs, prominent lawyers and others, is nothing short of higher education’s Bernie Madoff moment. Madoff, a crestfallen Wall Street investment titan spent more than 30 years “besting” the market, in what was later revealed to be nothing more than an eye-watering $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Like the FBI investigation that unraveled the complex web of college admission cheaters who benefited from a coordinated network of corrupt college officials, prominent coaches, shadow test takers and proctors all working under the coordination of William Rick Singer as their ring leader, deals a painful blow to the American ideal of meritocracy.
Not unlike the long shadow cast by epic Ponzi schemes like Madoff’s, this scandal will make it hard to restore confidence in the system. The general public sentiment that the upper echelons of the U.S. economy are rigged only to privatize gains when they are on top and socialize losses when they fall requiring a public bail out is being reinforced. In both cases, the cynic’s view that meritocracy, hard work, authenticity and discipline are equally rewarded and cannot be bought or cheated rings untrue. Indeed, that the cheat conspiracy also leveraged the complex and opaque tax system to avoid paying taxes under the guise of charitable donations only adds insult to a deep, biting injury – one that tarnishes vital institutions, including paragons of U.S. higher education such as USC, Yale, Georgetown and Stanford, among others.