Universities are trying to contain the fallout from allegations that families with money and clout paid bribes for their children to attend eight prestigious institutions.
They’re facing questions about the fates of students involved and whether they knew about their parents’ alleged acts. And, at a time of year when colleges are whittling down the mountain of applications and sending out acceptance letters, they’re having to look for prospective students who might be connected to the scandal.
Fifty people – including Hollywood stars, top CEOs, college coaches and standardized test administrators – allegedly took part in the scheme to cheat on tests and admit students to leading institutions as athletes, regardless of their abilities. At least eight universities are referred to in a federal indictment and criminal complaint.
William Rick Singer, the plot’s accused mastermind, allegedly told prospective clients that he created a “side door” for wealthy families to get their children into top US colleges. Singer was paid roughly $25 million by parents to help their children get into the schools, the US attorney said.
While the names of the students involved have not been released, universities are distancing themselves from coaches identified in the scandal and scrambling to contain the fallout from a scandal that raises questions about whether qualified students were denied entry to accommodate children of the rich and famous.
The prosecutor also raised the possibility that students could be charged. Here’s how the universities are responding:
University of Southern California
Who: The University of Southern California is at the epicenter of the scandal, with some of the biggest names linked to it, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli.
USC said it fired senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who are both charged in the scheme. The school has also placed a faculty member on leave who was named in the indictment as a parent.
Action steps: The school plans to use any money received in connection with the alleged scheme to fund scholarships for underprivileged students, USC’s interim President Wanda M. Austin said.
USC is making several changes to its oversight and review of student-athletes for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to a letter from interim President Wanda Austin.
“Every student-athlete candidate’s file will be reviewed on three levels – by the head coach, the senior sports administrator overseeing the team, and the USC Office of Athletics Compliance – before being sent to the admissions staff,” the letter states. “The head coach will certify in writing that the student is being recruited for athletic abilities. Athletic rosters will be audited at the beginning and end of every academic year and cross-checked with admissions lists.”
Outcome for students: All applicants connected to the cheating scam would be denied admission, Polakovic said. The university said it identified six students in the current admissions cycle who would be denied admission to USC.
The school is preventing students who may be associated with the college admissions scandal from registering for classes or acquiring transcripts while the school investigates. The school didn’t say how many students are impacted but said that those affected have been notified that “their status is under review.” The school could revoke admission or expel students after the review.
USC is not identifying past, present or potential students involved in the scheme, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 that says information cannot be released without prior written consent from the student.
President Austin’s letter also addresses the students currently enrolled who have been caught up in the scandal, including social media influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli, whose parents have pleaded not guilty to charges.
Austin writes that the cases are still going through internal review and “each of those students has been notified of the review and given a deadline for response.”
“The possible outcomes range from no finding of violation to revocation of admission, and will depend on the facts of each case,” the letter states.
Who: UCLA has put its men’s soccer head coach Jorge Salcedo on leave as he faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Action steps: UCLA said it’s reviewing the allegations in the Department of Justice’s filing related to admissions decisions.
Outcome for students: UCLA is reviewing one currently enrolled student and one prospective student, both with possible ties to the college admissions investigation, according to Tod Tamberg, UCLA spokesman.
“If UCLA discovers that any prospective, admitted or enrolled student has misrepresented any aspect of his/her application, or that information about the applicant has been withheld, UCLA may take a number of disciplinary actions, up to and including cancellation of admission,” said Tamberg.
Who: Stanford University fired head sailing coach John Vandemoer, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. He allegedly accepted financial contributions to the sailing program in exchange for recommending two prospective students for admission to Stanford.
“Neither student came to Stanford; one student was initially denied admission and intended to reapply but never did, and the second never completed an application,” the university said in a statement.
Action steps: Stanford said it has no evidence that the allegations involved anyone else but said it will conduct an internal review.
The university said it’s working to determine the “most appropriate way” to redirect the financial contributions – a total of $770,000 – made to the sailing team by Singer’s company, The Key Worldwide.
Outcome for student: Some of the Key’s funding was associated with a third student, who was not named in the government’s charges, the university said. The student hadn’t received a recommendation from Vandemoer, but is enrolled at Stanford.
“The student has no affiliation with the sailing program,” the university stated. “We are working to better understand the circumstances around this student and will take whatever actions are appropriate based on what we learn.”
Who: Georgetown University’s former tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, is charged in the scheme. The university said he has not coached the tennis team since December 2017 after an internal investigation.
“The investigation found that Mr. Ernst had violated University rules concerning admissions, and he separated from the University in 2018. The University was not aware of any alleged criminal activity or acceptance of bribes by Mr. Ernst until it was later contacted by the US Attorney’s Office,” the university said in a statement.
The school said it’s cooperating with investigators. University spokesman Matt Hill said there’s no indication any other Georgetown employees were involved.
CNN has reached out to Ernst, who now coaches at the University of Rhode Island. The school placed him on administrative leave and said he’s not involved in recruiting current players or signing new ones.
Action steps: The university says it established a new policy in 2018 to strengthen the recruitment and admissions process, including audits of its athletics department “to determine whether any recruited students are not on the roster of the sport for which they were recruited.”
An independent, third party is to conduct an audit of its athletic recruiting “to strengthen the integrity of our process,” the school said.
Outcome for students: “The indictment indicated 12 students who attended or are attending Georgetown,” Hill told CNN. “We are reviewing the details of the indictment and examining our records to confirm this number.”
He declined to comment on the students involved, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Who: The former head coach of Yale University’s women’s soccer team conspired with Singer to accept bribes in exchange for designating Yale applicants as recruits for the team, according to a court filing. Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith was the head coach for more than 20 years. In 2015, he agreed to work with Singer, according to the filing.
A spokesman for Yale said the university is a “victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach.”
Action steps: The school will conduct an investigation to determine whether “others have been involved in activities that have corrupted the athletic recruitment and admissions process,” President Peter Salovey said in a letter to the college community.
Yale will use external advisers who will suggest changes that will help the college “detect and prevent efforts to defraud the admission process,” he added. Officials are working to implement a code of conduct for athletic recruitment, he said.
There will be no delay in the admissions decisions, Yale University spokesman Tom Conroy told CNN.
Outcome for student: One student was admitted to Yale with a false athletic endorsement, according to Salovey’s letter.
“Although I do not comment on specific disciplinary actions taken with respect to an individual student, our longstanding policy is to rescind the admission of students who falsified their Yale College applications,” Salovey wrote.
On March 25, Conroy said Yale has rescinded the admission of one student in relation to the scam.
Wake Forest University
Who: The university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina put volleyball head coach Bill Ferguson on leave after he was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.
“The indictment alleges Ferguson accepted financial payments to influence the admission of a student that had previously been placed on the waitlist,” Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch wrote in an email to students and staff.
Hatch said the university is reviewing admissions and athletics practices, but so far it appears Ferguson acted independently and was the only person involved with the alleged misconduct.
Singer directed $100,000 from one of his charitable accounts to Ferguson including a $10,000 check to the Wake Forest Deacon Club, a $40,000 check to Wake Forest Women’s Volleyball, and a $50,000 check to a private volleyball camp Ferguson controlled.
In exchange, prosecutors allege Ferguson agreed to designate the daughter of one of Singer’s client – who had previously applied to and been placed on the wait list at Wake Forest – as a recruit for the women’s volleyball team to help her get admitted.
Action steps: Hatch announced that the $50,000 the school received from Singer’s foundation would go to a scholarship program to support first-generation college students. He also said that the director of athletics and dean of admissions were directed to review the admission process.
Outcome for student: Wake Forest doesn’t plan at this time to take action against the one currently enrolled student mentioned in the college admissions scandal indictment, a spokesperson said on March 20, adding that there is no evidence the student knew of the alleged financial transaction.
University of Texas at Austin
Who: The University of Texas at Austin dismissed its men’s tennis coach, Michael Center, a day after placing him on leave. Center is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Center is accused of taking nearly $100,000 in bribes to get an applicant, who didn’t play competitive tennis, admitted as a tennis player. The student quit the team after enrolling in the school, the university said.
“This appears to have been a singular event involving one UT employee who has since been terminated,” the university said.
Action steps: President Gregory L. Fenves said he has asked the vice president for legal affairs to conduct a review of Center’s alleged 2015 fraud and determine whether the university has the necessary rules and procedures in place to prevent future violations. He said this will include a review of the admissions processes for student athletes.
Outcome for student: UT didn’t comment on the student citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
“If a student is alleged to have included fraudulent information in an admissions application, a careful review is conducted to determine whether that occurred,” it stated.
University of San Diego
Who: The school identified Lamont Smith and two applicants as the only three USD employees, students or applicants involved in the alleged wrongdoing. The university says of the two applicants, only one is a current student and one declined admission.
Smith had been the University of San Diego men’s head basketball coach and left the university in March 2018, according to a letter sent by the university president, James T. Harris.
Smith became assistant basketball coach for the University of Texas at El Paso and resigned from that position on March 20 after being identified in the college admissions scandal.
Action steps: The school said it will work with an outside law firm to conduct an investigation and appoint a special committee to provide oversight into the university’s response.
Outcome for student: “As with any students, falsifying or making misrepresentations on an application for admission can be grounds for disciplinary action under USD’s Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities,” the university president’s letter stated.
CNN’s Kristina Sgeueglia, Stephanie Becker, Rob Frehse, Carma Hassan, Augusta Anthony, Madeline Holcombe, Eric Levenson, Mark Morales, Evan Simko-Bednarski and Traci Tamura contributed to this report.