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Noah Smith

What the College Scandal Says About America’s Elite

It needs to keep pace with the country’s demographics.

The great equalizer?

The great equalizer?

Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The U.S. college-admissions scandal — in which rich people paid bribes to get their kids accepted — strikes at the heart of cherished American ideals of fairness and meritocracy. But it also reflects a deeper problem: the blocked transition to a new, more diverse elite.

Although the alleged bribery happened at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions — including the University of California, Yale University and my own alma mater, Stanford — by itself it doesn’t prove that meritocracy is a complete sham. It involved only a small percent of elite school spots, which are themselves only a small fraction of the higher education system. Also, people have been charged with crimes. This will discourage similar tricks in the future, and will reduce the prestige of the institutions involved. From now on, employers looking over the resume of a Yale or Stanford graduate might wonder whether they got admitted because of real skill or rich parents.