Risk Management |
In the wake of “Varsity Blues” — the federal investigation into admissions corruption at several high-profile universities — independent schools may want to take a closer look at their internal controls around admissions fraud. Prosecutors not only implicated individuals in the criminal investigation but also made allegations that create a complex array of risks that may affect independent schools as well as colleges and universities. Heather Hoerle, executive director and CEO of The Enrollment Management Association, and Debra Wilson, president and CEO of Southern Association of Independent Schools, addressed these legal issues and best practices in a recent NBOA webinar, “The Fallout from the College Admissions Scandal for Independent Schools.”
Educational institutions should expect that the fallout from Varsity Blues will lead to increased scrutiny by prosecutors, governmental authorities and accrediting agencies. Should your school be issued a subpoena, a number of steps may help safeguard your school against potential risks or vulnerabilities, said Hoerle and Wilson.
My experience working at the DOJ, in both criminal and civil [cases], is that people are pretty reasonable, but you want to have very straightforward conversations with all parties.
Debra WilsonSouthern Association of Independent Schools
Amid the nationwide college admissions scandal, two parents at Marin Academy, a grades 9-12 independent school in San Rafael, California, were arrested for using fraudulent tests, fictitious athletic credentials and bribery to gain their children admissions to prominent universities. One parent had been a member of Marin’s board of trustees until his recent resignation.
How should independent schools comply with federal and state investigations when a parent is on the board? It is important for schools to have a clear and comprehensive policy outlining the process for a board member to step down or take a leave of absence following an investigation, especially an investigation that intersects with the school, advised Debra Wilson.
If there’s an immediate lesson in the “Varsity Blues” story, it’s that independent schools must continue to monitor the integrity of their testing and counseling processes, as well play a more active role in responding to the intense pressure many parents and students face.
“I think all of this is largely driven by parent anxiety about getting into the right college and securing a future for their kids,” said Wilson. That anxiety often plays out in a narrow race to get into the “best school” for its own sake, rather than around a clear sense of the functional pay-off a school will have, the doors it will open or what students might do once enrolled.
“Even if your kids get into a bunch of highly competitive colleges around the United States, do they really want to pay $70,000 a year?” posed Hoerle. In other words, the social and emotional pressures surrounding college admissions can often obscure other factors in deciding where students choose to go to college.
Besides legal counsel and precautions, Hoerle and Wilson cite a supportive and transparent relationship with parents and students as the right step when it comes to de-pressurizing the college admissions process. “Educate parents, recognize their anxiety and let them know that, frankly, they’re kind of targets out there to people who want to exploit their anxieties and fears,” said Hoerle. Then, help students focus on what’s important and broaden students’ choices so they can find the right match.
The best outcome for the independent school community might be to take a step back and ask serious questions about how this process became so pressurized that parents would knowingly lie and cheat to get their children into college. “It’s clearly time for us to think holistically,” said Hoerle.
For more case studies about these current issues, including the recent ruling on Harvard University’s affirmative action case and the legal complexities that many independent schools could be facing in the future, visit the archived webinar and slides.
#CrisisManagement #Culture #Policy
Under Pressure: Student Mental Health (May/June 2019)
With Justice for All: School Investigations (July/August 2019)
The Case for Legal Counsel (web-only, May 2017)
“Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO),” U.S. Department of Education
"Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Regulations," U.S. Department of Education
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