College Admissions Bribery Scheme

The U.S. Justice Department has charged college coaches, exam administrators, and parents with scheming to get kids into elite universities, such as Yale, Stanford, USC, Georgetown, and University of Texas at Austin.

The complaint names 32 defendants and charges them with conspiring to do the following:

(1) to bribe college entrance exam administrators to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams

(2) to bribe varsity coaches and administrators at elite universities to designate certain applicants as recruited athletes or as other favored candidates, thereby facilitating the applicants’ admission to those universities

(3) to use the façade of a charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribe payments.

William Rick Singer founded Edge College & Career Network, also known as “The Key,” which facilitated these schemes. A cooperating witness submitted phone transcripts and described how the organization works:

What we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school … They want guarantees, they want this thing done. They don’t want to be messing around with this thing. And so they want in at certain schools. So I did what I would call, “side doors.” There is a front door which means you get in on your own. The back door is through institutional advancement, which is 10 times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in. Because the back door, when you go through institutional advancement, as you know, everybody’s got a friend of a friend, who knows somebody who knows somebody, but there’s no guarantee. They’re just gonna give you a second look. My families want a guarantee.

Some schools have posted statements on their websites. Compare statements from USC, Yale, and Stanford.

Singer photo source.


  • This situation illustrates the failing of which leadership character dimensions?

  • Compare the schools’ responses. What are the communication objectives? What differences do see in the messages, and how do you account for them? Which statements work best?