The Ivy Coach Daily

March 15, 2022

Development Cases in Admissions

USC found itself at the center of the Varsity Blues scandal in 2019.

College applicants who are the progeny of major donors to a university are traditionally flagged as development cases in elite college admissions. Yet, in our experience, most families underestimate the dollar figure it takes to move the needle in admissions at our nation’s top universities as a development case. Maybe they think half a million or a million dollars will sway admissions officers to offer their child admission. And that’s cute. Maybe this would have moved the needle in 1980. But it seems these folks haven’t accounted for inflation. Don’t get us wrong. The university will happily take these funds. They’ll even send over a super sweet, often handwritten thank you note. But, in most cases, it will not positively impact the child’s case for admission to the university.

That being said, some top schools aren’t as picky. Would it surprise our readers to know that the University of Southern California will take money where they can find it and that the athletics department brazenly emails about a family’s ability to donate during discussions about applicants? Let’s face it…likely not. Hey, it’s USC, the school that found itself at the center of the Varsity Blues scandal just a couple of years ago. In fact, that scandal has now brought to the surface newly discovered internal USC emails that shines a spotlight on the influence of money in the USC admissions process.

As Jennifer Levitz and Melissa Korn report for The Wall Street Journal in a piece entitled “New USC Emails Reveal Ties Between Admissions, Athletics Fundraising,” “More than a dozen internal USC emails from 2013 to 2018 among top athletic-department officials and fundraisers portray staffers at times fixated on prospects’ bank accounts. A staffer added dollar signs in reference to a family in one email, and noted in another that a family needed to ’pay up’ before further favors would be granted…In the emails, athletic-department administrators and staffers who raise money for USC speak openly about prime donor prospects and how to close deals…The exhibits echo previous emails…that showed athletics, admissions and fundraising officials weighing applicants’ wealth in the admissions process. ’VIP’ students were described in spreadsheets with references such as ’father is a surgeon’ and ’given 2 million already.’”

Do our readers think that USC athletics officials still send out such internal emails? After all the fallout from the Varsity Blues scandal, likely not. Yet just because staffers aren’t sending out such brazen emails anymore doesn’t mean the systemic issue has been fixed, now does it? What do our readers think? Is it the same old, same old at the University of Southern California these days?

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