Parents and son talking with financial advisor

Another day, another example of parents behaving badly.

You may have heard about the most recent college admission scandal – the latest public embarrassment but not, I suspect, the last. An investigation by ProPublica Illinois, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism, reported that wealthy parents in a Chicago suburb were transferring guardianship of their college-bound children so they could receive more financial aid. Because need-based aid depends on income, these families gamed the system by basically seizing on a loophole to shield their assets. They were helped by dubious law firms and a morally-challenged college consulting company.

And everything these families did is legal, no matter how morally reprehensible.

The ProPublica investigation found more than 40 guardianship cases fitting the profile of parents manipulating the financial aid system between January 2018 and June 2019. Similarly suspicious transfers to less well-off guardians were also discovered in five other Illinois counties and “the practice may be happening throughout the country,” concluded the investigative journalists. Several of the students, according to the research, are high achievers attending or admitted to a range of universities. Their parents are equally accomplished: doctors, a superintendent, lawyers, insurance agents, all types of successful professionals.

I guess success didn’t really teach them much, based on their behavior.

And they’re stealing from those who actually deserve it: economically disadvantaged families, students who are truly separated from parents, kids who are wards of the government. This kind of cheating should rile people up because these parents are taking money from the pockets of the people who need it most.

“It’s a scam,” the director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois told ProPublica. “Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.”

These revelations come only months after the ongoing Varsity Blues federal investigation, considered the largest college admissions cheating and bribery scandal in American history. The ringleader pled guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering, fraud, and obstruction, and then pointed fingers at parents and university employees. Like the Chicago-area misconduct, the Varsity Blue cases involved families who had amazing wealth and privilege. Apparently that wasn’t enough for them; they had to bribe officials, fake applications, pay test-takers to sit for their children’s college exams, and lie, lie, lie through their teeth.

These cases are particularly loathsome because they serve as proof that these parents care less about what they’re teaching their children and more about grabbing what they want by whatever means at their disposal, regardless of who gets the short end of the stick.

As though cheating the financial aid system isn’t bad enough, there are other parents who take bad morals one step further, by buying a diagnosis to guarantee extra test-taking time for their kids, an accommodation that is reserved for students with physical disabilities and/or other learning disorders. I’ve witnessed one of my kids and many friends’ kids struggle with school and have to work like dogs to keep up with the kids who don’t deal with the same challenges. Parents with no ethics who are abusing an arrangement designed to help, will end up casting a doubt on these essential modifications for those who truly need them.

I have a son leaving for college this week. He already graduated from one program and is working on another diploma starting in a few weeks, a few hours away. The financial toll is a large one, between tuition and the cost of living expenses away from home, and he has been lucky to have worked hard since he was a teenager and made his way in the world without his parents having to foot the bill (well, at least not much of it).

If I was fabulously wealthy, I have to imagine I’d have paid for his education. Yes, I would have gone to great lengths to ensure he earned and appreciated that kind of endowment, but with substantial resources comes the responsibility to help your kids in this way, no? And perhaps that’s a matter of personal choice and that’s a presumptuous option on my part – but one thing I know for sure is that, assuming I did have the ability to help, it would be wrong of me to transfer guardianship of my kids to someone with less, so as to retain more of my own wealth.

What a world.