Last week a judge ordered actress Felicity Huffman to serve 14 days in prison, pay a $30,000 fine, and conduct 250 hours of community service for paying someone to change her daughter’s ACT scores. The responses regarding her reparations ranged from appropriate to outrageous to “racist”. Huffman was the first of many of the wealthy parents that have been charged with various crimes related to the college admissions scandal and as such serves as a type of benchmark for upcoming cases.
In order to determine if this was the appropriate punishment for Huffman, it may help to look at the reasons the crimes were committed. Many of the parents, not sure about Huffman in particular, wanted to ensure that their child got into the best college possible because of the impact it would have on his or her child’s future. For example, Lori Loughlin, one of the parents with a similar (but perhaps larger) crime, has openly stated that she did not receive a college education and understands how important college is for her daughter’s future success.
I recently read a book called Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh. I identified with the author having come from an eerily similar background (although I didn’t always agree with her political opinions). The author, however, made it out of what she identified as the unknown poverty level through working hard and being able to receive an education. The education was funded by her own hard work and via various grants and financial aid. I applaud what she has achieved.
Sarah Smarsh is just one individual who has been able to become successful by achieving a college education. That goal is important not only to poor parents but to middle class and wealthy parents. Recent research conducted by Spectrem in our new study entitled Parenting and Financial Issues indicates that 64% of households with more than $100,000 of net worth (not including the primary residence) believe that getting a college education is very important. Women are much more likely to support that concept, with 80% of women agreeing with that statement. When asked what type of cost they would be willing to assume to assist their children, 78% indicated they would help their child pay for a four-year private university. Ninety-five percent of parents would assist with a 4-year public university.
Yet even in these “wealthy” households, many families and their children relied upon student loans, grants and other types of financial aid. Our recent study, High Income Millennials, indicates that roughly 70% of Millennials with more than $150,000 of annual income have student loan debt.
So, I propose a better solution for Felicity Huffman and the other wealthy parents that broke the law while getting their child into the “right” college. Why not have these parents pay the full ride for one or many students that can’t afford to pay for college but deserve to be in these schools?
Will 14 days in prison and $30,000 teach Felicity Huffman a lesson? Yes, probably. But why not provide real life reparations to someone who couldn’t afford to go to one of these schools? Maybe Lori Loughlin and her husband could pick up the tab for a whole class of students?
And maybe we need to reassess the whole college admissions process and the cost of these colleges as well?