The revelation earlier this year of a massive college-admission scandal in which California parents paid millions of dollars to have their children admitted into top institutions shed light on the advantages wealth confers to applicants seeking spots at competitive schools.
But college admissions officers at Dubuque institutions are unconcerned that prospective students would falsify their credentials to increase their chances of admission or to secure a scholarship, as the admissions process presents few opportunities, or incentives, for applicants to do so.
“When we admit students to Loras, we have a review process,” said Kyle Klapatauskas, director of admission and retention at Loras College. “For me, it isn’t about simply getting them into Loras. It’s about getting them a degree and helping them to graduate.”
Of the 1,700 to 1,800 students who apply to Loras each year, about 1,100 to 1,200 are admitted.
The college’s application lacks components that could be forged, such as an essay, and requires official standardized test scores and transcripts — sent directly from the testing company and applicant’s high school.
An offer of admission is based solely on grade-point average and test scores. Students must obtain a 2.5 GPA and a 20 or higher on the ACT or 1,030 or higher on the SAT. The tests are scored out of 36 and 1,600 points, respectively.
In theory, students could pay others to take standardized tests for them, as occurred in the California cheating scandal, but “We have faith and trust in ACT and SAT in monitoring the tests,” Klapatauskas said.
Loras also awards academic merit scholarships based on GPA and test scores along with interest-specific scholarships for which applicants can qualify based on up their interests, such as music or community service.
Some students probably exaggerate the extent of their extracurricular involvement, but Loras institutes a system of checks and balances by interviewing applicants, he said.
“It isn’t as simple as listing some activities and getting a scholarship,” Klapatauskas said. “We’re going to get to know you. … My bigger concern, honestly, is that students don’t give themselves enough credit or they don’t realize some of the scholarships that we have to offer.”
Bob Broshous, associate vice president and dean of admission at the University of Dubuque, said he does not doubt that applicants have misrepresented themselves.
UD, which in 2018 admitted 2,100 students out of the 3,000 applications the institution received, accepts the Common Application, which includes a section where prospective students self-report extracurricular activities and compose an essay.
“We certainly investigated circumstances like that where we feel … the essay was written in such a way that it looks like it was written by someone who was much better academically prepared than the (applicant’s) academic credentials would indicate,” Broshous said.
The university also requests supporting documents, such as letters of recommendation, to verify the information.
An area UD more often investigates are cases in which prospective students neglect to report past disciplinary incidents, including arrests.
“If they neglected to tell us about something and we later found out about it, we have, in fact, rescinded their admission,” Broshous said.
Like Loras, applicants for scholarships at UD cannot financially benefit from misrepresenting themselves because financial awards are issued based upon academic merit as reported on official transcripts.
As NCAA Division III schools, UD and Loras cannot offer athletic scholarships, but Clarke University can because it is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Jolene Christensen, Clarke University’s director of admissions, said athletic coaches evaluate potential students by reviewing recordings of their performance and utilizing the services of recruiters.
The school bases offers of admission and scholarships on documents provided by official sources. Any applicant who obtains a 2.5 GPA and 18 on the ACT is accepted.
Of the about 1,700 students who applied in 2018, Clarke admitted about 1,000.
A new scandal recently was unearthed in Lake County, Ill., in which parents relinquished legal guardianship of their children to allow the students to declare themselves financially independent. In so doing, the students could qualify for more financial aid.
Christensen said that issue is not a concern at Clarke at this time because the process is labor-intensive and heavily monitored.
“There is a lot of documentation that has to go with that,” she said. “Our financial aid office definitely vets all the students that are trying to be independent and make sure they are following the process correctly. … There are outside individuals that have to provide documentation on their behalf.”
Klapatauskas said he hopes that, ethically, applicants are aware of the impact fraudulently securing financial aid has.
“You’re taking funds away when you don’t need it, potentially from students who do need that,” he said.