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It's been more than a week now since the college admissions scandal broke, and with every passing day a few lessons become clearer.

Among them is the degree that parents seem to be willing to do all manner of beyond-the-pale things to try to help their kids get advantages over their peers. 

But also, that it's hard to suggest that there's any real payoff from most of it.

Take the results of a survey the New York Times commissioned after the scandal broke about so-called "snowplow parents," that found that parents admitted to doing things like writing their kids' job applications for them (16%), helping with school assignments (11%), and contacting a child's employer to address a problem the son or daughter was having at work (11%).

Elsewhere, personal essay "editors" are admitting that they've basically been ghostwriting college essays for wealthy clients.

How does any of those things help? Writing your adult child's job application is at best stupid, and at worst flat-out committing fraud against the employer. And, it's not as if parents can then show up at work once the child lands the job and actually earn the paycheck. 

As for a parent calling a child's employer for almost any reason, that seems like a one way ticket to Unemploymentville, USA. 

Perhaps it's a surprise, but the payoff from skullduggery to get kids into elite college in the first place seems low, too. A pair of widely-cited studies suggest that the difference in outcomes for graduates of elite colleges and less elite ones is negligible.

"There are exceptions, but most people who prosper after graduating from such [an elite] college would likely have prospered if they had attended a less prestigious institution as well," Greg Ip writes in the Wall Street Journal. So why pull strings?

Because, he says, "parents may simply value noneconomic factors, like bragging rights ... or the chance for their child to marry within a particular social network."

I do have to add a caveat here. Students who are racial and ethnic minorities, or whose parents didn't attend college, do in fact see an increase in lifetime income from attending elite colleges, according to the pair of studies.

The purported reason: These students are introduced to networking opportunities they would be less likely to have otherwise. 

But otherwise, it reminds me of a saying about another aspect of college life, often attributed to Henry Kissinger: "Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

Here's what else I'm reading today:

Published on: Mar 21, 2019
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