Cheating the College Admissions Process

Published on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 by

ACT Chalk Talk #16


The ACT and SAT have been plastered across headlines for the past couple weeks as federal prosecution of a college admissions cheating operation expands to fifty people, including actress Lori Loughlin of Full House fame. [Link]

Famous, wealthy individuals stacked the deck for their children by bribing university officials and getting a helping hand from corrupt ACT and SAT test proctors. The public is reeling from revelations that our supposedly meritocratic university system might not be the great equalizer that post-secondary marketing teams want us to believe. 

But, to me, the truly shocking story is that even if everyone played by the rules, the deck is impossibly stacked against students from low-income families. This story is told in one graphic provided by ACT, Inc., from its 2015 report, The Condition of College Readiness: Students from Low-Income Families. [Link]

In 2015, 85% of students from high-income families graduated high school ready for college-level English courses, compared to only 44% of students from low-income families. Even worse is the gap in math. 65% of students from high-income families graduated ready for college-level math courses, almost three times more than the percentage from low-income families. Students who don’t score college ready by the time they graduate will have to take remedial, not-for-credit courses at college, and they’re more likely to drop out before earning a degree. 

Why the score gaps? According to a comprehensive study by the New York Times, poor school districts in the U.S. average two grade levels behind, while the more affluent districts average two grade levels ahead. That’s the difference between a student taking the ACT as a freshman in high school and as a freshman in college!

MasteryPrep’s mission is to help close these gaps by making the ACT and SAT approachable for low-income, first-generation students. We do this by helping your school provide effective, engaging prep for all of your students, no matter their income levels or backgrounds. We’re here to help you level the playing field. We believe that every student can graduate high school college ready, and we also believe that every student deserves to. 

We hope that all those involved in the cheating scandal are brought to justice, and that all of this media attention and public outrage results in fairer access to opportunity for all students. But we also hope that this event becomes an inflection point for our K–12 education system in general. There are programs that are tireless champions for equity in college access, TRIO and GEAR UP foremost among them. These programs provide direct support for low-income, first-generation students while in high school. They truly level the playing field. If we really do want college admissions to be fair, it starts with supporting low-income students in earlier grades. It starts with providing further support to TRIO, GEAR UP, and other programs like them.