Stanford Students Claim Harm from College Admissions Scandal, Say Degree Now 'Not Worth as Much'
Kalea Woods and Erica Olsen accuse eight schools and an admissions adviser as participants in a rigged system that denied them fair consideration
In the wake of a growing college admissions scandal, two Stanford students have filed a federal complaint claiming to be victims of alleged conspiracies hatched by wealthy parents and an enrollment advisor to inflate the achievements of others who sought to enter several top colleges and universities.
Student Kalea Woods alleges that her Stanford degree is “not worth as much as it was before, because prospective employers may now question whether she was admitted to the university on her own merits, versus having rich parents who were willing to bribe school officials,” according to the complaint filed Wednesday and obtained by PEOPLE.
Woods further alleges that when she had applied to the University of Southern California, she “was never informed that the process of admission at USC was an unfair, rigged process, in which parents could buy their way into the university through bribery and dishonest schemes,” according to the complaint.
Fellow Stanford student, Erica Olsen, also takes issue in the complaint with the process that denied her enrollment at Yale, despite what Olsen describes as success in athletics and “stellar” scores on standardized admissions tests.
“Had she known that the system at Yale University was warped and rigged by fraud, she would not have spent the money to apply to the school,” according to the complaint. “She also did not receive what she paid for — a fair admissions consideration process.”
Their complaint follows revelations Tuesday about the nationwide scheme that allegedly involved cheating on entrance exams and false portrayals of students as athletes to boost their appeal in selective admissions processes. Fifty people — including parents, coaches and admission officials — were charged as part of the scheme, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.
Prosecutors allege dozens of wealthy parents — including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — paid sometimes exorbitant sums to admissions consultant William Singer and his nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (“KWF”). The KWF is accused of helping students cheat on their SATs, sometimes without their knowledge, as well as bribing coaches and administrators to accept wealthy parents’ children.
Huffman allegedly gave $15,000 “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter,” the indictment states.
Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, Italian fashion mogul Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly gave $500,000 to have her children designated as athletic recruits to a crew team, when neither had ever participated in the sport, the indictment states.
Both women were arrested and released after posting bond — $250,000 for Huffman and $1 million for Loughlin.
Some named in the court documents allegedly paid bribes of up to $6 million to get their children into elite colleges, according to federal prosecutors.
The complaint by Woods and Olsen names Singer and KWF, along with eight schools: Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of San Diego and the University of Texas at Austin.
It further seeks class-action status, in a bid to represent anyone who applied to those schools between 2012-18. The complaint asks for a refund of application fees as well as unspecified punitive damages “to punish the defendants and deter future conduct.”
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Admissions to the schools mentioned in the complaint are highly selective: Among first-time, full-time undergraduates, only 5 percent of applicants get into Stanford, 7 percent into Yale, 17 percent into Georgetown, 18 percent into the University of Southern California, and 29 percent into Wake Forest, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal indictment naming the 50 individuals does not charge any of the schools with wrongdoing. But several of the schools caught up in the scandal have since responded.
“As the indictment makes clear, the Department of Justice believes that Yale has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach,” said in a statement to PEOPLE from the university. “The university has cooperated fully in the investigation and will continue to cooperate as the case moves forward.”
USC maintained they have not been “accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government’s investigation,” in their response. USC is now conducting its own internal investigation and reviewing admissions process.
Stanford announced they have terminated their head sailing coach, who was implicated in the case, and believe no one else at the school is involved.
“The charges state that sailing head coach John Vandemoer accepted financial contributions to the sailing program from an intermediary in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford, the school said in a statement. “Neither student came to Stanford. However, the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford’s values.”
Wake Forest University told PEOPLE in a statement that they have placed their volleyball coach on administrative leave following his alleged role in the plot.
“Wake Forest is aware of the allegations regarding head volleyball coach Bill Ferguson. The University has retained outside legal counsel to look into this matter,” the university announced. “Wake Forest has placed Ferguson on administrative leave and named Randi Smart interim coach, effective immediately. We will have no further comment at this time.”