- Students have already filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status, after a wide-ranging college admissions scandal was revealed this week.
- Prosecutors have charged 50 people in a scheme to admit the children of wealthy parents, who the feds are accusing of paying bribes to help get their children admitted to the schools.
- Two students have sued several universities at the center of the scandal, alleging that the scheme prevented them from having a fair opportunity to apply to those colleges, and that the schools were negligent in protecting their admissions processes.
- Legal experts say the lawsuit is likely to fail, as the students will have a hard time proving they would have been accepted if not for the scheme.
Multiple universities at the center of a sweeping college admissions scandal were hit with a lawsuit from two students who say they were deprived of a fair admissions process by an alleged scheme that allowed parents to pay bribes to secure spots at top schools for their children.
Federal authorities charged some 50 people on Tuesday, accusing them of participating in the scheme. Dozens were wealthy, high-profile parents who prosecutors say paid bribes so that coaches and administrators would admit the children as athletic recruits, or so their children could cheat on the ACT and SAT, according to the criminal complaint.
Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, both students at Stanford University, filed a suit seeking class-action status, alleging that schools like the University of Southern California, Yale University, and the University of California Los Angeles were "negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures" that would have protected the admissions process.
"Had she known that the system at Yale University was warped and rigged by fraud, she would not have spent the money to apply to the school. She also did not receive what she paid for — a fair admissions consideration process," the lawsuit said of Olsen, according to court documents INSIDER reviewed.
The complaint also argued that the students' Stanford degrees are "not worth as much" because potential future employers might question whether the women were "admitted to the university on [their] own merits, versus having rich parents who were willing to bribe school officials."
'This is the tip of the iceberg'
The mastermind of the scheme, William Singer, pleaded guilty on Tuesday after cooperating with prosecutors to reveal the extent of the scheme. Singer told a judge that all the allegations against him are true.
But legal experts say that while the criminal prosecution is significant and worthwhile, the students' lawsuit against the schools isn't likely to go far.
Instead, the students will run into a number of logistical problems proving that they were truly harmed by the scheme, and that they would otherwise have been accepted into the schools they applied for.
"I do not think that these so-called class action suits are likely to go far," Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and current professor at Loyola Law School told INSIDER. "It's going to be very hard for them to show they have have standing, that it affected them enough directly, that they would have gotten in, or that somehow the degree is worthless or worth less than it was before."
A far better solution, Levenson said, would be for schools across the country to take a hard look at how the college-admissions process has devolved over the years into a race that treats acceptance to top schools as a prize that wealthy families believe they can buy.
"We do have a system of privilege where money does buy better support for kids," she said. "I have to tell you, this is the tip of the iceberg. It's very flagrant. Having people take exams for kids is very flagrant … I don't think more lawsuits are the answer, I think the answer is for educators all across the system at what the college application process has become."
'They were played for suckers'
The best-case scenario for the lawsuit will be for the students to potentially win back the money they spent on their application fees to the schools, since "the game was rigged," according to Jeffery Cramer, a former federal prosecutor. But anything beyond those fees would be stretching it, he told INSIDER.
"Hard to prove damages for not getting into the school of your choice," he said.
Cramer said the scheme wasn't a victimless crime — an unknown number of students were denied spots at those schools because parents were able to pay bribes to win their children spots instead.
The schools need to bear the burden of rectifying those wrongs, he said, perhaps starting by revoking acceptance for any students currently enrolled who benefited from the scheme.
Some schools have already begun that process; the University of Southern California announced Wednesday that it would reject any current applicants linked to the scheme, and the University of California, Los Angeles said it would take "disciplinary actions" including canceling admission for enrolled students who misrepresented themselves on their applications.
"I think what these schools are going to do is look internally at their admissions process, and make sure when the crew coach says, 'We're recruiting this kid to row crew, that the kid has actually seen the water sometime in the last 4 years," Cramer said. "There'll be some internal review by the schools to make sure they're not duped again, because they were all duped. They were played for suckers. Willing suckers, but suckers."
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- The college admissions scandal came to the FBI by accident, when a unrelated fraud suspect revealed it in a bid for leniency, report says
- The man who helped wealthy students cheat on college entrance exams was a Harvard grad who was able to ace the tests because 'he was just a really smart guy', prosecutors say