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Cutthroat race to university

Recent lawsuits present controversy about affirmative action, tying cheating to competitive college admissions process

Ale Ceniceros

Ale Ceniceros

In August, President Donald Trump’s administration’s announcement to investigate a 2015 complaint against Harvard University by 64 Asian-Americans reopened the debate about the role of race in college admissions. Especially with public institutions receiving tens of thousands of applications, specific information about race and extracurriculars on resumes are not verified by college admission officials.

Tanya Raghu, Coppell High School

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For five months, the college application process has been on Coppell High School senior Maya Garg’s mind. It was initially the daunting process of inputting personal information, writing a personal essay and supplements, and submitting financial aid documents for more than 20 schools, now, it was the months long wait.

Despite her academics and resume, at a highly selective, private school that she has applied to, the deciding factor in gaining admission could be out of his control: her race.

Private institutions in the United States do not have to abide by affirmative action laws unless they are given federal funding.

With President Donald Trump’s administration’s announcement to investigate a 2015 complaint against Harvard University by 64 Asian-Americans, the debate about the role of race in college admissions was reopened in August 2017.

Rise of dishonesty

Competition is said to breed excellence, however, the cutthroat culture of the U.S. college admissions process, for some, has instead given rise to desperation.

“It’s understandable to why they would it, but don’t rely on race to get you into college,” Garg said. “Be true to who you are and let the college accept you for yourself.”

The Common Application, which is used by more than 700 colleges, asks optional demographic questions about religious preference, Hispanic or Latino descent and the question, “regardless of your answer to the prior question, please indicate how you identify yourself (Select one or more).”

However, ethnic descent can also be determined by the information about where the applicant’s parents attended college and were born. First generation status is also determined this way.

Race is commonly defined as unitary, often socially imposed and it is determined by physical features. However, someone can claim multiple ethnic affiliations according to PBS. This begs the question, who determines the validity of one’s claim to a race?

In many ways, the definition of ethnicity is more flexible because it encompasses culture, traditions and features of social and cultural groups while race is determined by biology, for example, white, black or brown.

Public institutions, by law, cannot discriminate based on race, sex, age or any biological information, often with the tens of thousands of application, this information is not verified by the university’s admission office allowing applicants to exaggerate facts about their heritage to gain an advantage.

“We just go off of what was checked on the application,” Ohio State counselor David Wallace said. “It doesn’t have any sort of admission consideration, it’s just for statistical information.”

Most notably, affirmative action was implemented to lessen the historical impact of racial discrimination and is targeted at people of African-American, Hispanic and Native American descent.

According to Coppell High School lead counselor Debbie Fruithandler, she is required to verify race for the College Board’s National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP) by checking the student’s birth certificate and signing off on the claim.

“I’m not certain that they have a means to validate the race the student reports on their application, however, if a student is ever found to have lied on an application that might revoke their admissions or even, I guess, they technically have the right to remove you from that university,” Fruithandler said. “I’m not sure they will do that based on that one factor.”

In order to qualify for the program, a student must be at least 25 percent of Hispanic or Latino descent.

While university admission officers are able to meticulously check quantitative data and official records such as letters of recommendation, transcripts, birth records, standardized test scores and GPA, it is more difficult to verify qualitative information.

Most commonly, officers will check for inconsistencies between the student’s resume and counselor’s letter of recommendation. With the recent cases of dishonesty, officers will most commonly, contact high school counselors to confirm claims.

However, Fruithandler said a college has never called the CHS counselors department to verify information.

Competition across the board

The sentiment of increased competitiveness has been felt by college applicants of all backgrounds and races.

Among top-tier public and private liberal arts institutions, the number of applications has increased by one third during the last five years.

Similarly, the number of high school graduates has reached 3.6 million in 2018 and almost two thirds of all high school graduates now apply to college.

However, class sizes have increased minimally despite increases in the number of applicants.

Attributed to the intentions of selective institutions to strive to build a well-rounded class size, admissions offices employ a holistic review, taking into account activities, academic records, employment history, internship experience, volunteer service and even race and sexual orientation.

For many schools, such as the University of Texas at Austin, which receives a high volume of applicants, admissions offices rarely have the time to fact check the information on submitted resumes.

“We like to believe that students are telling the truth,” University of Texas at Austin assistant director of admissions Alexandra Taylor said.

However, at times, if something piques an admission officer’s interest, he or she will often do a quick internet search.

Lying on applications also includes parents or businesses such as, writing admissions essays or personal statements such in the case of tutor Lacy Crawford in 2013.

“At some point, each student is responsible for their own honor, even in the National Honor Society,” CHS AP U.S. History teacher and NHS sponsor Kevin Casey said.

“I have grave concerns about anyone who would falsify information on an application or a resume because it really speaks to the character of that individual and in life,” Fruithandler said. “Our character and our integrity are of the utmost importance and at some point, not living up to those standards, will catch up with that student.”

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