USF Responds to National Admissions Scandal

Students fraudulently admitted as athletes, photos doctored, essays forged and test scores adjusted. What would you do to get into an elite university?  

Dozens of parents across the country have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud after they were accused of spending thousands — even millions — of dollars to get their children into top universities, including the University of Southern California and Yale University. The illegal activity was coordinated by William Singer, the founder of the Edge College and Career Network.

In response to this national scandal, President Paul Fitzgerald released a statement via a campus-wide email saying that USF’s holistic admissions approach does not allow admission to students who will not be successful at the University.

“I want to assure you that the USF has no indication that our admission processes, which are transparent, fair, and abide by professional and ethical practices, are connected in any way with this scandal,” Fitzgerald said in his campus-wide email.

Most of the schools targeted in the investigation are top 20 ranked schools that have some of the nation’s most competitive acceptance rates. USF is neither.

Michael Beseda, who heads USF’s admissions office and operations, said USF is unlikely to fall victim to the kind of fraud outlined in the investigation because of the mission and values in their admissions process.

Though Beseda is not aware of a case where a student has been untruthful in their application in the three years he has worked at USF, he has had to revoke a students’ admission to the University before, due to students misrepresenting themselves in their application.

Beseda cited USF’s Division I membership as a check to ensure transparency and fairness in the admissions process. All Division I recruits are subjected to strict NCAA eligibility checks and audits carried out by a number of different authorities. It is worth noting, however, that every school involved in the admissions scandal is also a member of NCAA Division I and subjected to the same rules as USF.

Beseda did add that USF does not designate “special admissions students,” a common recruiting tool used to grant athletes admission to school for which they may not be academically eligible.

Fitzgerald announced in his email statement that the University would begin a review of admission records, which he said could take several weeks. Individuals in the admissions office are closely reviewing their own processes. Additionally, The College Board, who oversees the administration of the SAT, is reviewing records to notify schools of any student suspected of cheating on the SAT, according to Ellen Ryder, who heads USF’s marketing and communications office.

“At this point, USF is reviewing our records to see whether any recruited student athletes left their team during their first year, and if so, why,” Ryder said. “This review is being conducted by members of the Athletic Oversight Board, whose members include members of the faculty, athletics department, and senior leadership, and will take several weeks to complete.”

Freshman sports management major Marie Marlow plays for the women’s soccer team. In order to become an athlete at USF, Marlow had to participate in standardized testing and fill out an application, just like all other USF applicants. Then, she had to meet a certain athletic threshold. She now has to maintain a particular GPA to remain eligible to participate in soccer.

Marlow said she is “disgusted” by the admissions scandal and wants USF not to “stoop down to the level of all the universities who have been accused.”

Cheating on standardized tests is slightly more difficult to monitor, but USF officials are looking at any students whose record shows a significant discrepancy between their grades and test scores. The reviewers are also looking at the list of people who were involved in the scandal to see if any students at USF were in any way connected to them, Beseda said.

Provost Don Heller said in an interview with local TV station, KRON 4, that he was surprised by the extent of the scandal.

“We in higher education are going to have to work very hard to re-instill that trust in parents, prospective students, and the media,” Heller said in a televised interview. “When you’re talking about 20 million college students in the U.S., it still taints the entire industry.”

If the admissions office or athletics department learns anything or comes up with new policies or procedures, they will share that information with the community, Beseda said.

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