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Former Penn men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen testified a few days before the national scandal surfaced that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Philip Esformes, a father of a Wharton senior, to recruit his son to the team. (File Photo)

As information continues to surface from scandals both nationwide and at Penn, students are raising questions about the role money plays in the admissions process.

On March 12, 50 people were charged in one of the biggest admissions schemes ever uncovered by the federal government. Although Penn was not among the institutions named in the Justice Department’s documents, former Penn men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen testified just days before the national scandal surfaced that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Philip Esformes, a father of a Wharton senior, to recruit his son to the team.

Some students said the scandals have generated broader discussion on affirmative action, legacy admissions, and family donations to the University. 

College junior Maggie Zheng said the scandal prompted conversation in a Student Committee on Undergraduate Education meeting on Sunday. 

“It’s kind of amusing for students who have been criticized that ‘they only got their spots because of affirmative action’ because there are generally a lot of accusations against students of color or lower-income students," Zheng said. 

“The reality is that the people who are stealing the spots or getting them unfairly or legally are rich, wealthy people who are white,” said Zheng, who is also the political chair for the Penn Association for Gender Equity. 

Credit: Alice Heyeh

Several students said that both scandals confirmed ideas that they already had about the admissions process at Penn.

Zheng said that SCUE members also discussed the perceived advantage of students whose families have donated to the University. 

College junior Luke Yamulla said that while bribery is a more “outrageous and absurd” case, family donations and legacy admissions are legal avenues for money to play a role in admissions decisions.

"I think even if it’s not straight up bribery it’s still a problem with donations," Yamulla said. "That’s not to say that everyone whose parents donate to the school doesn’t deserve to be here necessarily, but you can’t deny that there’s an advantage to those whose parents are wealthy enough to drop them - in the case of Jon Huntsman Jr – millions of dollars."

Yamulla referenced the bribery allegations as well as recent tuition hikes in a recent post on Penn’s meme page, Official Unofficial Squirrel Catching Club.

Yamulla added that discussion about the scandals should not focus on the individual students whose parents were involved, but rather on larger inequalities in the admissions process. 

“Outrage should be directed more at the collective admissions process and demand schools like Penn, like USC, Yale, to expand their programs like Questbridge to even out the playing field a bit more,” Yamulla said. 

Engineering senior Eden Harris agreed that the scandals raise questions about legacy admissions and said the news "didn't come as a shock" to her.

Harris added that the scandals reveal inequalities in the resources students of different socioeconomic backgrounds have access to when applying to college.  

"It can be really defeating for someone who worked so hard all throughout school to get to college and find that some people's parents just paid their way in," Harris said.

Harris is also a board member for Penn First, an organization for first-generation, low-income students, which hosted a town hall on Tuesday about affirmative action, legacy admissions, and the recent scandals. 

Recent updates have uncovered ties between the Jerome Allen case and the national bribery scandal. Esformes, who bribed Allen with $300,000, also sent more than $400,000 to the charity run by William “Rick” Singer, the college consultant at the center of the national college admissions scandal.

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