Catholic Lessons From the College Admissions Scandal

The college admissions fraud that was revealed last week brings up an important topic for Catholic families: what should be our priorities in the college search?

Actresses, wealthy business owners and others are accused of acting desperately to secure the “big school name” for their son or daughter. The parents allegedly found ways for their student to cheat on the SAT or ACT, paid off coaches to list their son or daughter as a recruited athlete, and utilized a variety of other methods to cheat their way into the university.

And for what? So that their student could attend an “elite” college, list that alma mater on their resume, and the parents could earn bragging rights with friends?

It’s a sad reflection on the state of higher education today, but our culture tells all of us that a prestigious college degree is a ticket to wealth and success. Catholic families know that there are more important priorities, yet we too are susceptible to college marketing and neglecting the higher things.

“Many today are so concerned about getting into this or that elite college, but unfortunately, for many, they are not really seeking a true education – just a ‘brand name’ to go on their resume to assist them with future career plans,” explained Tom McFadden, vice president of enrollment at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

College should prepare students for a career, but also for the rest of their lives. College can be a time for students to grow in mind, body and soul; discern their vocation; grow in their faith; and so much more—but that means choosing a college that is serious about Christian formation and devoted to all truth, including absolute fidelity to the Catholic faith.

There’s an “irony in this scandal,” according to Michael McMahon, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. “We have parents exercising vice while trying to get their kids into college, the very institution that Blessed John Henry Newman writes is for ‘the formation of character, intellectual and moral.’”

Thankfully, we have a number of faithful Catholic colleges that haven’t forgotten Newman’s vision for Catholic education. When navigating the college search, parents would do well to consider the impact on this life and the one to come.

Families should “avoid getting caught up in the quest for prestige” and instead “put a lot of thought into their child’s particular personality and strengths, as well as their priorities for the child’s formation,” advises Lizzie Griffin Smith, assistant vice president of enrollment at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas.

The college admissions fraud revealed last week certainly isn’t the first or the last of its kind. But Catholic families can set an important example by putting the focus back on the most important things in the college search.

This article was first published at the National Catholic Register.

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