It is Good to Sell College Admissions for Cash

I do not see why very wealthy parents should not purchase places for their dull offspring at prestigious universities.  College classes are very seldom full, so these silver-spoon admits very seldom “take the place” of students with more brains and less money.  In fact, with the wealthy parents’ gifts in hand, prestigious universities could cut costs for other students.  And if the classrooms get crowded, they could use the gifts to build bigger classrooms.

Universities are already very loud in proclaiming that test scores are not everything, that they require a mix of students, and that students with sub-standard test scores often contribute to the campus community in other ways.  Well, it seems to me that 1.5 million dollars is a pretty valuable contribution to the campus community.  It may not equal contribution of certain varieties of pigmentation, or ball-handling, or inventively lachrymose autobiography, but it sure is not nothing

And I think it would be disgraceful if, after cashing the parents’ checks, the universities ran these silver-spoon admits into the mangle of a weed-out course.  A silver-spoon admit should have a reasonably chance of earning a silver-spoon diploma.  If this requires a silver-spoon major, then make a silver-spoon major.  It wouldn’t be hard.  Universities have a lot of experience inventing soft majors for students who were not admitted for their hat size.

Here I expect to hear sniffy remarks about devaluing a diploma from Rutabaga U., about the introduction of “noise” into the “signal” of that most coveted of all sheepskins.  To this I can only answer that, in the court of world opinion, the prestige of Rutabaga U. will skyrocket when some paparazzo snaps a photo of little Suzy Silverspoon in her Rutabaga U. sweatshirt.  As for the court of academic opinion, they know that all but three departments at Rutabaga U are shams.

If we are honest, we will admit that we do everything we can to give our children an advantage over other children.  My children are approximately the color of a knockwurst sausage, so their pigmentation causes the uncorking of no champagne bottles in college admissions offices, but I cannot say that I would complain if it did.  I have a little learning, and while raising my children, I have not hidden it under a bushel basket so they would have no advantage over the children of parents with a little less learning.  The payoff of my informal pedagogy does not seem to have been large, but the point is that I was not behindhand in playing the card I was holding.

And, like many of you, I had some hope of a small return on investments in books, piano lessons, educational travel, speech therapy, orthodontics, and lessons in a foreign language.  My children are very far from being silver-spoon admits, but I did everything I could think of (and afford) to ensure that they applied to college with something more than toothpicks in their mouths.  And for their rivals who were lucky to apply with only a toothpick, this was not strictly egalitarian or altogether fair.

So, I do not see how anyone is harmed if Rutabaga U. allows Suzy Silverspoon to hang around its campus for four years, and then awards her a Bachelorette of Silverspoon Science.  The value of what she brings to the university is beyond dispute.  The value of what she takes away is her problem.

17 thoughts on “It is Good to Sell College Admissions for Cash

  1. Tho I may be a proud alumnus of Rutabaga U (Go Rucksacks! Hee-Haw!) I can’t help but agree with you. This follows the “Play stupid games win stupid prizes” principle. If you are allowed to buy your way into a university, why would the university let you leave? Subsidize some other students! Buy yourself a diploma! Colleges can offer different plans: For just $100,000 you can graduate Magna Cum Laude in 4 years without ever showing up. For $200k, you can graduate MCL tomorrow. And this is altruistic, too: You’re consuming no resources other than the paper the diploma is printed on; and you’re helping make the campus better for other students who are still on the “Pay as you go” plan that is SO early 2000’s.

    Tack on 50k to join a prestigious Alumni Association, and boom. You’ve got all the paper that is important to you: A diploma, a resume, and a recommendation letter. The world is yours! I just hope the school of hard knocks still has the same professors that I had, when I went there after I got my B.S. BS in BA (Business Administration).

    Something about this also reminds me of Kristor’s analysis of bureaucracy: Colleges are wholly owned and operate exclusively for their self perpetuation, so why not have a huge, empty complex with no students but, on paper, many diplomas going out and lots of money coming in. That’s the College Administrators ideal campus.

  2. Hi JMSmith. I’m not sure how much of this is satire, but I think that the proposal to accept anyone who meets some minimal standard and is willing to pay a certain amount could be seriously argued. As long as no remedial education services are thereby introduced, there would be no cost to the university. If they flunk out, the university has lost no investment. If they pass and graduate, the value of the diploma–which is supposed to come from satisfactory academic performance at the university, not the rigors of admissions–will not be lessened.

  3. I more serious than satirical here. If wealthy airheads wish to pay large sums for a quasi-college experience, I don’t see why we should not take their money and give them what they want. Universities already offer a quasi-college experience to airheads, they are just drawing the line at doing it for something as valuable as cash. They hide this behind the fiction of “majors,” but many majors are just less demanding roads through the institution. Some students (and parents) understand this. Others don’t. If the university were honest, it would classify majors as A, B, C, and maybe even D class. Employers already do this.

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  5. Universities could auction off a certain number of spots per department and use the proceeds to directly cut tuition for the rest. Even if only the Ivy League gets high bids and the rest get modest ones, the lowered cost for those top schools might drive down prices for the rest (plus the ten-millionaires would quickly settle for a U of Chicago at 1/10 the price of a Princeton). This is just formalizing what more or less already happens. Love it.

  6. The West has this weird logic that money is somehow dirty and a profit motive makes things ugly. Not even invented by modern socialists, think Luther and indulgences… I think e.g. Chinese attitudes about money are healthier. And of course the current ruling class considers universities sacred.

    I remember going to Florence, looking at the three hours long queue of people at the Uffizi Gallery and thinking what if they would open a second gate that would charge double the ticket price for no extra service, just a likelier shorter queue, so you could choose to invest money or time… but I think people consider that too “dirty”. Okay, I understand that it would make the cheaper queue longer as the bottleneck is not the gate but the amount of people who can fit comfortable into the gallery.

    My city, Vienna, has an excellent public transport infrastructure, the only annoying part is sharing a vehicle with people you would rather not. I had this idea that on a 5 wagon long tram there could be a first-class car for double price, minimal improvements, the only important thing would be the self-selecting clientele, and this could finance a fifth car that could be entirely free for the poor. Win-win in a way the above example isn’t, but not seeing it happening… this is an example how a society that accepts the reality of class hierarchy could be more charitable. Currently the rich and the poor pay the same amount to use public transport and get to “enjoy” each other’s company. Sense it does not make.

    • I have argued for variable tuition at the university where I teach, and my argument has been rejected as insane for nearly thirty years. The university will use advertising to increase demand for its surplus products (e.g. summer classes, morning and evening classes, unpopular classes), but it will not use the price mechanism. This is particularly stupid since the costs of running a class are almost all fixed costs, so filling seats at discount prices at the very least reduces losses. University people immediately say that this will favor rich students, but do not see that it could provide great savings to poor students who are willing to take their classes at inconvenient times. It is like your segregated streetcar in which riders are actually rewarded for sitting next to smelly bums.

      • … which is why gyms offer off-peak-hour memberships at a reduced rate. This is not rocket science and I don’t think they are too stupid to understand it. Rather it violates some kind of “purity”, “sacredness” instincts.

        See, this is why I am thinking Haidt’s five-axis research is wrong. If you look carefully, you find liberals caring for authority (climate change consensus), ingroup loyalty (more to labels than to people) and even purity / disgust type of morality. When I was a child, I managed to make liberals have a perfect disgust-morality reaction by suggesting to burn old and worn schoolbooks. Aaargh! Book burnings! That’s a Nazi thing! That was the reaction. In the Enlightenment “religion”, things like knowledge or education are sacraments. So doing stuff like that or letting “dirty” money influence their distribution much creates this disgust reaction.

      • I think you are right. I wonder if ordinary people are less squeamish about cash payment because their money really is just a store of the value of their labor. If I earned my money with real work, I will see there is no real difference between my money and my real work. If I earn $25 an hour, giving you $50 and helping you for two hours are exactly the same. Not to go all Marxist here, but money does seem to be mystified once you start earning it as rents, interest, and dividends.

        I used to have that superstition about books. Actually, I still do about some hard-cover books. I still remember how weird it felt when I finally decided to throw away several boxes of old paperback. Many of those books had originally cost less than a hamburger and fries, and yet I carried them with me for years. Overcoming this superstition is all the more important now that on-line books has destroyed the used book market. Once I no longer have a use for it, most of my library will go to the dump.

      • I know it seems a shame, but in most cases I doubt that it is. Most books are just time-wasters, and some are positively evil. Isn’t it good to decrease the quantity of pornographic novels in the world? Of glorifications of drug-taking? Of seductive ideologies? I’m inclined to think I have a moral duty to destroy a bad book rather than resell it. If I am convinced that it was a waste of my time and money, am I right to put it out there where it can waste the time and money of others?

    • Currently the rich and the poor pay the same amount to use public transport and get to “enjoy” each other’s company. Sense it does not make

      The rich use public transport? And the poor likely don’t care, it’s only the middle classes that don’t enjoy it.

      As with back door payments to universities, it’s only some people in the middle who will complain (‘my sheepskin status symbol is devalued!’)

  7. I do not see why very wealthy parents should not purchase places for their dull offspring at prestigious universities.

    Are you saying we don’t already do this?

    Perhaps relevant, the recent “college cheating scandal” is not about parents who bought their children’s way into prestigious universities. It is about parents bribing university employees to sneak them in.

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  9. “If I can make the comparison, there is a front door of getting in where a student just does it on their own, and then there’s a back door where people go to institutional advancement and make large donations, but they’re not guaranteed in,” Mr. Singer said. “And then I created a side door that guaranteed families to get in. So that was what made it very attractive to so many families, is I created a guarantee.”

    Paying universities is an insufficient guarantee, and the third-rate thespians and assorted unknown businessmen just weren’t sufficiently high on the totem pole. The gilded door is only for lords and barons, how dare mere squires try to force their way through!

    The university is just angry that the bribe was paid to someone else.

    This too.

  10. The age of egalitarianism will pass, and the elite universities will revert to being exclusively for the elite. Until then, all the insecure striving and social climbers and complaints that ‘this is not fair‘ have to be put up with.


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