The Contrarian: Is It Cheating If It’s Right?

More students have been arrested in the in the Great Neck High School SAT/ACT cheating scandal, bringing the count up to at least 20 students caught paying someone off to take the tests for them. The amounts paid to the assumedly sharper, more equipped test taker(s) have been reported up to $3,600, and Samuel Eshaghoff, one of these test takers, could potentially face four years on counts of scheming to defraud, criminal impersonation and falsifying business records. He is accused of taking at least 15 tests for payment. He scored 2100 out of 2400 on his own SATs.

Smart cookie, save dealing with lazy kids.

But are they lazy, or just realistic? Money makes the world go round, after all, and it’s not as if the market makes a simple route to success a tangible possibility. High school students must be on the verge of nervous breakdowns the way the news portrays young people so pissed off at the governments inability to pay up that they are rioting in the streets. How do they view their own worth and their ability to apply it to a career plan, listening to their brothers and sisters, college graduates, weeping into their pillows at the lack of a salaried job that can even nearly match what they paid in yearly tuition at the charm school they called college?

Risk-reward mentality makes total sense in a situation where following the rules, the road, the formula to a fruitful life as pay off to hard work and integrity of spirit continues to mean jack-shit for anyone anymore. Studying, extra-curricular activities and good grooming isn’t enough. The risk taken in exchanging money for a better shot is not so different than the politics we see on TV, money giving a voice to a cause, funding backing up a candidate’s ability to look like they have good skin on camera.

The Bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, and the accessibility of the American Dream has become, perhaps to the benefit of future generations, contingent on admission to an institution of higher education. The economy is telling of the landscape current students will be navigating in their working years, and as recent graduates will sorely warn, “It’s tough out there.” Whether it’s work ethic or monetary clout that is their bargaining chip with an uncertain future, students understand the need for a college education as minimal insurance for a stab at their dreams.

Grades and credentials notwithstanding, the issue of money continues to make it difficult for many to attend the college of their choice, and school admissions recognize that. Higher education, like anything else, is a business, and the admissions process is a reflection of the built-in institutions that contribute to the perpetuation of socio-economic disparity. For example, “suiciding” a school, or opting into Early Admission, ensures that if a student is accepted to the program, they have made the agreement to attend that school, regardless of the amount of scholarship money they are offered at that institution or elsewhere.

Let’s say a top choice was entirely expensive and one could not be sure that grades would get the scholarship needed to attend. Apply Regular Admission, while a friend applies Early Admission, which gives obvious preference. It is likely that they will get in and you will not, despite a higher GPA and rank, several AP classes they didn’t take, several extra curriculars they didn’t match, and, perhaps most pertinently, a much higher SAT score.

BTW, tagline on that story reads “Based On A True Story.”

Essentially, this is to say that the ability to pay full tuition without major scholarship assistance has nearly everything to do with who gets accepted where. People with money get into good schools, good schools yield high-paying job placements, their children are able to afford Ivy League with or without a scholarship, and the cycle of concentrated wealth continues, passed along generations like a pedigree. The allocation of wealth and power is connected to systems of inequality regarding race, class and gender, and the argument for economic disparities within each of those systems can often be connected to our values.

With much more to be said on this issue, a freshly-opened can of worms for your thoughts: Given that colleges and universities are giving more obvious preference to wealthy students who can afford to pay more tuition than their peers, implying that the ability to pay more money compensates for poor grades and credentials, what does that mean for women?

Statistically, women more often and in greater numbers have the grades to make the cut but are held to disproportionately higher admissions standards than their male counterparts, who need less to their credit for admittance using the argument that while women have been taught to work hard or get nothing, men are raised with the idea that cunning and knowledge of the system can get you anywhere.

And what does that mean for our boys, who have grown up with a great deal less pressure to do well in school but so much pressure to succeed that they will break numerous laws and spend thousands of dollars in good faith that this is what needs to happen?

What does this mean for all of us?