Fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli and his wife, actress Lori Loughlin, were sentenced to five and two months in prison respectively for attempting to bribe their children’s way into college.
Some students say it wasn’t enough.
“I was not surprised. I don’t know what I could say is appropriate but such a small punishment is just a slap on the wrist,” USC junior Mercedes Solaberrieta said. “I’m sure her daughters' lives, as well as her own, will continue almost unchanged once this is all forgotten.”
The initial scandal and recent charges acted as reminders of the educational inequities that exist at the collegiate level and how those inequities bring to light matters of privilege and excess.
“The college admissions scandal is further proof that we’re not all on the same playing field and that there’s little respect for underprivileged students who have to work twice as hard,” said sophomore Emanuel Rodriguez. A communication major, Rodriguez is a student that comes from a low-income background that forced him to work with limited resources in his pursuit of higher education.
USC alumni Melisa Bivian, who graduated from USC in 2019 and was the first in her family to obtain a master’s degree, was shocked by the initial news of the admissions scandal. “I grew up in a Mexican household where I was always taught that we had to earn what we wanted, but the right way. I never knew people were buying their way in,” Bivian said.
Bivian explained that what made her particularly angry about the scandal was that Loughlin’s daughters, Olivia and Isabella, took spots from other potential students. “Someone who got denied admission could’ve found value and earned a degree,” Bivian said. As of Oct. 2019, both daughters were no longer enrolled at USC.
Another point of frustration for many within the scandal was Olivia’s social media posts about her intentions to attend a university purely for the social experience.
Solaberrieta and Rodriguez both acknowledged that prioritizing social pursuits over education makes sense for some, but for others, things are not that simple. For them, college is a valuable means of personal and professional progression.
“In the case of Olivia, her life would have probably followed the same trajectory whether or not she went to college, but that is not a reality for so many,” said Solaberrieta. “Personally, I chose to continue studying, not only to expand my knowledge, but also to create opportunities for my future.”
Solaberrieta added that “their inability to imagine a college education as anything but a superficial process is another slap in the face to students who need this experience to open doors.”
Similar to Solaberrieta’s frame of mind, Rodriguez emphasized that he is attending college to learn and grow, as opposed to investing in the social aspects of the experience. “For someone from an upper-class background with many connections and their careers set out from the start, college may be an experience to gain more social capital and respectability. I, personally, do not have that luxury,” said Rodriguez.
The 2020-2021 estimated cost of attending USC full-time for one academic year is $59,260. 22% of the Fall 2020 freshman class are first-generation college students. Students from U.S. families with an annual income of $80,000 or less would be able to attend USC without having to pay tuition.
Among the many grievances that college students have had with the admissions scandal, the one that will likely linger in the minds of many for the foreseeable future is whether or not universities are truly looking out for their best interests, especially if those students come from underrepresented backgrounds.
Rodriguez said “I don’t think I had very much confidence in the college admissions system, to begin with.” Rodriguez does not believe it is fair to standardize things such as test scores, skill sets and grades considering the varying degrees of resources that students have.
Solaberrieta’s concern about USC was primarily rooted in questioning whether or not she was truly valued as a minority student. “I found myself questioning whether USC truly cared about my individual success as a student or if I was simply contributing to a diversity statistic, though, the jury might still be out on that question,” she said.
USC’s class of 2024 is the most diverse freshman class in the university’s history.
Loughlin will begin her prison sentence on Nov. 19 at a medium-security prison in Victorville. Her husband will serve his sentence at a low-security prison in Santa Barbara County.