A few years ago, when I applied to colleges, it never entered my head that a school wouldn’t accept me. My high school in Lindsay, deep in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, only had about a hundred seniors, out of which less than 10 ended up in four-year schools. Most of my graduating class went to the local junior college or went to work. So, I thought I was headed to the big time when I applied to the University of California at Santa Barbara where the climate was certainly much better than in the Valley. (I really wanted to go to UC Berkeley, but no way was my mom going to let me go to a school where riots and protesting happened daily.) Today, applying to college is a scary ordeal with intense competition to get into the “top” schools and very few students are guaranteed acceptance to their “school of choice.”

College was a great experience for me. I earned a Cal Grant, so my fees were covered. I also won several local scholarships which covered my book costs for several years. My parents paid for room and board, and I worked to pay for my clothes and activities. In this I was lucky because I left school owing absolutely nothing.

I’ve always given my parents a lot of credit because from the time I started elementary school, I heard about “when you go to college.” My parents were not rich. They were barely middle class when I was a child, but they always gave me the expectation of getting a college degree. And it was made clear to me that it was my job to get a good education and make the most of each and every class.

Now parents, some very wealthy parents, feel it is their responsibility to get their offspring into the best schools, the most prestigious schools, the most expensive schools, in any way possible. If they donate enough money or pay enough in bribes, their student can take the spot of a star athlete or a scholarship recipient. Or these parents might pay some semi-genius to take their student’s SAT test. The resulting amped-up test result certainly gives their student an advantage, albeit an unfair and unearned advantage. The really obnoxious part is that a lot of these wealthy offspring could care less about getting a good education. Their parents are rich, and therefore they are rich. Most have never had a job. Most have no great desire to do the work required to complete a degree at a premiere college. It is their parents that want the ability to say, “My son, my daughter, is attending Harvard or Princeton or USC.”

Most of the students that attended the junior high at which I taught came from lower middle class to very poor families. Most had parents that were lucky to have completed high school or a few years at a junior college. Yet two I know of learned English, became gifted students in junior high and high school, earned full scholarships, and went to Ivy League East Coast schools. One became a doctor and returned to the Oxnard area to work in low-income medical clinics. It makes me cringe to think that their acceptance into college could have been negated by some wealthy parent’s idea of what is the best way to help a child.

It’s no surprise that wealthy parents have made large donations over the years to various colleges in hopes that their son or daughter will be looked at favorably. But it’s appalling that there are parents that are paying what amounts to big time bribes to get their son or daughter accepted by a premier college and, in this process, have cheated deserving students out of their chances. This is wrong on so many levels and in so many ways. Maybe the students that weren’t accepted to USC or Harvard or Princeton due to these bribes, have grounds for a class action lawsuit against not only the schools that allowed this to happen but also against those parents that thought their wealth could somehow buy what should be earned.

Melinda Wittwer first moved to Carpinteria in 1972 and taught mostly junior high students in Oxnard during her 25-year career. Now retired, she enjoys pottery, writing, books and travel.

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