The Ivy League Elevator: The other kind of college scandal

Opinion by: Francesca N.

Edited by: Kody T.

Visual by: Suman P.

It’s okay if you don’t have skill, as long as you have the crutch of money – unless the darn FBI comes in.

On March 19, dozens were prosecuted for forging grades to get their children into elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. (Some, like Full House star Lori Loughlin, got out with a $1-million bond, however). This has sparked unanimous outrage for obvious reasons: the injustice towards well-deserving, hardworking scholars, the flaws revealed in the education administration system, the disgusting waste of money to cheat their children into schools–especially if those children say they “don’t really know how much of school [they] plan to attend” and “I don’t really care about school” (like Olivia Jade, Loughlin’s daughter and once-Sephora-sponsored YouTuber). However, beyond the blatant injustice of paying into a coveted position and stealing of spots of significantly more deserving scholars lies a deeper conflict embedded in societal bias.

Why were these top .5%-ers so desperate for their children to get into the Ivies? It’s not just, “Duh, because Columbia.” It’s about what Columbia means now. The scary truth with these photoshopped athletes getting away with the ruse is that they would still have been granted the mouthwatering diploma and shining title of an Ivy student–whether or not they deserved it. If rejected mascara-teared valedictorians and parents’ military-style pressure weren’t enough proof, this staggering degree of bribery reeks of the trademark desperation and longing for the Ivies – but it’s smart desperation: because society loves Ivy Leaguers. And society treats them well. That’s why paying your way into it is such a desecration; the power wielded by Ivy League alumni is immense. It’s pined after. But it’s possibly a little problematic for the rest of society.

According to the Washington Post, “the median annual earnings for an Ivy League graduate 10 years after starting amount to well over $70,000 a year. For graduates of all other schools, the median is around $34,000.” Why is this allowed? Why is this the norm? It seems as though the diploma undermines the student’s individual, unique skill set and achievements, glazed by the glorious sheen of “I graduated from UPenn!”

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If community college alumni climb the stairs, Ivy Leaguers get an elevator. We’re allured by prestige, and seem to automatically transfer that prestige onto the student. Harvard graduate school will be much more willing to accept a top-scoring student from Princeton than, say, Ateneo, only because of Princeton’s Ivy-standard reputation.

This goes with reason. These schools boast the most cultured professors, state-of-the-art facilities, and a highly selective admission process suggesting they house only the best students. However, the term “Ivy League” was never an indicator of academic prowess, but a label for schools in a historically founded sports league. (That’s why all Ivies are so near each other: for athletic competitions.) Although it remains an athletic conference, people associate “Ivy League” to a much higher standard.

More importantly, brilliance is not restricted to these facilities. Countless are unable to gain admittance into Ivy League schools – besides each campus’ limited capacity, different financial situations come into play. Yet countless are capable of forging impressive paths and meaning in their workplaces. And countless do. Although the location of their education could be an indicator of their capabilities – as honest and deserving Ivy students are undeniably brilliant and well-deserving of success – the Ivy olive wreath is not a statement of those who lack their diplomas.

Because what if this Ateneo kid cornered herself in a room to earn the top marks? What if her professors were stunned speechless by her physics intellect and initiative in the lab? What if she has the most astounding startup calculations, and can get the job done in half the time as the average worker? And what if the international scholarships were too few, and if she didn’t have the financial means for an Ivy?

We mustn’t lose the honor of being invited into prestige. But we must recognize that prestige – whether in the form of cold blooded cash or an envied college jacket – could become a crutch. I’m not advocating for Ivy Leaguers to be treated like dirt nor saying that they don’t deserve the connections and investors and opportunities they’ve been granted. I’m certainly not suggesting that a Dartmouth graduate possesses the same malice and sinister spirit exhibited by lazy trust fund kids and their headlining parents. But the currency of the degree should not be the be-all-end-all. When we place the Dartmouth and community college kid side by side, we mustn’t automatically degrade the community college graduate. If the Ivy Leaguer gets a pedestal, it shouldn’t skyrocket to the moon. Genius is found in every school. It’s vital that we turn our focus beyond names and appearances. If their skills and dedication are paralleled regardless of degree, shouldn’t they be invited into the elevator as well?