As outrage grows over the massive alleged college admissions cheating scheme, the parties involved are working to contain the scandal.
Coaches accused of falsely presenting prospective students as athletes have been fired or put on leave by their universities, and schools are reviewing their enrolled students to confirm no one else was involved.
But it remains to be seen what will happen to the students themselves. According to the criminal affidavit, some of the students were aware of the cheating, but others had no idea.
Will the students be expelled or allowed to continue attending school? What repercussions will they face, if any? And what about those who may be in the middle of the admissions process, at this busy time of year when colleges are whittling down the number of applications and sending acceptance letters?
CNN spoke to two experts in college admissions and higher education law about the potential outcome for students whose parents pulled strings to get them into prestigious universities.
Here’s what they had to say.
Students’ fates will be determined ‘case-by-case’
Christine Helwick, the former general counsel for the California State University system, said “there’s no right solution” when it comes to the future of these students.
“It will have to be a case-by-case determination,” she said.
If a student is found to have cheated on an exam like the SAT or lied on their application to the school, their fate would depend on where in the application process they were and whether they were already enrolled or had graduated when the cheating was discovered, Helwick said.
If they were in the middle of the application process, the school could easily take them out of consideration. At least two universities have said they will deny the admissions of students if they’re found to be connected to the scandal. And on Friday, USC said it had identified six students in the current admissions cycle who would be denied admission to the university.
If they’ve already graduated, Helwick said she doubts a school would revoke a degree.
Universities face the hardest decisions for students who are still enrolled, Helwick said, and she said schools should be looking at whether these students were aware of the cheating or whether it was done by their parents behind the student’s back.
Ed Boland, a former Yale University admissions officer and the author of his memoir, “The Battle for Room 314,” agreed, and said a school’s dean of students would likely launch an investigation to examine whether the student was aware of the cheating — and if so, whether the student was complicit in the process.
Those who knew should face expulsion, expert says
According to the criminal affidavit, not all the students were aware of the cheating arranged by their parents. Currently, no students face charges in the scandal.
Two students who the affidavit says were aware are the daughters of Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez, who are accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars and favors as part of the scam. The affidavit says their daughters actively participated. CNN has reached out to the Henriquezes for comment.
According to the affidavit, a proctor, who had been paid to sit by the Henriquezes’ oldest daughter’s side and provide answers during the exam, “gloated” with her and her mother “about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it.”
In the cases of students who were complicit in the cheating, Boland said such behavior warrants “immediate expulsion,” adding universities need to show everyone they won’t tolerate scamming the admissions process.
“This scandal is undermining the public’s faith in this process,” he said, “and schools have to act firmly and swiftly to show the public that they are as alarmed as the public is.”
Asked whether it was believable that some students didn’t know about the cheating, Boland said he thought it was. If fewer people were in on the process, he said, it would be easier to control.
For example, according to the affidavit, one student who had been admitted to the University of Southern California as a track athlete had no idea about the arrangement and was surprised when his adviser at orientation asked him about track.
Boland also pointed out that many students wouldn’t want to “benefit from this despite their parents’ desires.”
Helwick didn’t necessarily agree, pointing out that the alleged scam involved cheating on SATs or ACTs, or being presented as a prospective athlete for a team they had no intention of playing on.
“It’s hard to imagine that a student would not be knowledgeable about either one of those,” she said.
Could they get a second chance?
Both Helwick and Boland indicated the students could have a chance at redemption, depending on their case.
Some schools might be willing to look at whether the students in question had so far proven whether they could stand at the institution on their own merits, Helwick said, to decide if they would be allowed to stay.
“How far have they progressed?” she asked. “How well have they done? Have they demonstrated they really were capable of performing at a level of someone who got in under normal circumstances?”
A student could otherwise be asked to leave the university and attend another institution to prove their academic merit on their own, Boland said, which is “a very common practice,” often for a student who might have failed out or partied too much and didn’t take their education seriously enough.
And, Helwick said, “community colleges are available for all manner of people.”