Can rich parents move to a poor neighborhood for a year before their brat applies to college?

We know from the recent college bribery scandal that wealthy parents are willing to commit (federal!) crimes to get their brats into a good college (apparently contradicting the assertion that being born into a wealthy family guarantees success due to “privilege”).

Now the SATs will include an “adversity score” that considers the neighborhood and the school of the test taker (NYT explains the 31 factors). What stops a rich family from renting an apartment in a poor neighborhood starting in August of the applicant’s senior year of high school. The kid then takes the SATs in September, after enrolling in the local public school.

The NYT article is fun because it shows that American educrats aren’t interested in academic achievement:

“If you’re a really well-educated, higher-income family living in a poor neighborhood, this measure is going to overstate the disadvantage you face,” said Sean Reardon, a professor of education at Stanford University.

But, he added, “The question is not whether it’s perfect, but whether it’s better than the alternative of what colleges have had access to, to date. It sounds like this will be better than nothing.”

I.e., nobody questions the idea that students from unsuccessful neighborhoods are to be preferred and students from successful parents and neighborhoods should be admitted only as a last resort. (But if The Son Also Rises is correct, in the long run this means that the most successful people in a society will be graduates of universities that don’t discriminate against children of the successful!)

The long-term goal is to pry into the individual student’s situation:

Among the scholars who consulted for the College Board was Richard D. Kahlenberg, a fellow at the Century Foundation and a proponent of class-based affirmative action. He said he would like to see the College Board tool evolve to also include information on a student’s individual family. Still, he called the measure “an enormous step forward.”

Doesn’t that open up more opportunities for resourceful parents to game the system? Big factors are “single parenthood” and parental income. A one-income married couple living in Nevada, for example, could avail themselves of the state’s no-fault divorce laws and get divorced just before the child takes the SATs. The non-working parent will be getting the $13,000/year (tax-free) child support cap and therefore qualify as low income. The applicant can tell the SAT folks that the working parent is nowhere to be found and that the working parent’s income is unknown.

[Is this already happening for financial aid? The non-custodial parent (a.k.a. “loser parent” the winner-take-all states) is not considered by the Federales for financial aid, though finaid.org says that private colleges can “require a supplemental financial aid form from the non-custodial parent”. But the typical child of an American divorce hasn’t seen the loser parent within the preceding year, so how is the child supposed to get that person to fill out a form? Massachusetts is a classical winner-take-all state and Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority says:

What if there is no contact with the non-custodial parent?

Colleges that require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA understand there are cases when a second parent is not involved in the student’s life. For students in this situation, colleges have a waiver process. Students should go to the college website or call the college and ask about a non-custodial parent waiver form or process. Students will need to do this for every school that requires the non-custodial parent to submit a Profile. Colleges are understanding of cases when the other parent is truly not a part of the student’s life at all, but will not waive the requirement for a case when the other parent simply does not want to complete the application or contribute toward college costs.

Since children of single parents are preferred by colleges, why would any applicant whose parents aren’t married admit to having spoken with the loser parent?]

This would seem to penalize children of low-income parents who make the effort to move to public housing in nicer towns with better schools. I know a few immigrant “single moms” who live in Newton, Massachusetts for example. Upon arrival in the U.S. they realized that there was no stigma to being divorced and promptly sued their husbands. As these guys were low-income immigrants themselves, the child support revenue from the divorce did not disqualify them from public housing. So they live in taxpayer-subsidized apartments in Newton and send their children to the Newton schools. Their SAT scores will come with a “no adversity” tag even though they (a) did not speak English as their first language, (b) did not have two parents in their home, and (c) did not live in a high-income household.

If the mission of American universities is to educate young people (God forbid they should admit anyone significantly over the age of 18!) who have suffered from adversity, why would they admit anyone who grew up in the U.S.? An American on welfare has a greater spending power (housing, food, health care, smartphone) than a middle class family in most parts of the world.

In a global economy, what’s special about residents of the U.S.? Why are they entitled to take a spot at Harvard, for example, ahead of someone with a similar SAT score who grew up in Vietnam (excellent academic scores, but few people living better than an American on welfare).

10 thoughts on “Can rich parents move to a poor neighborhood for a year before their brat applies to college?

  1. Monkeys of all races, unite! Give each one a smartphone and a handful of nuts!

    And who is gong to advocate for academically gifted kids from the ethnic neighborhoods? Is it Trump?

    Or, maybe, just throw them under the diversity bus as long as they are in this country legally? especially if, horrors of horrors, they were born here. Only illegals are unhinged enough to defy Trump!

  2. Phil, it’s not nice to reveal WASP secrets for keeping Asians out of their prestigious institutions.

  3. I have heard of divorced parents who agree to designate the greater-earning parent as the non-custodial parent. The parents might have agreed to split the college costs, and it is in both of their interests to just report the less-earning parent on the federal forms, and thereby reduce college costs.

    • Roger — that strategy might work well with colleges which require the FAFSA only. But more selective colleges, including the Ivy League, require their own, more detailed financial aid form. They look at both parents’ finances in the case of a divorce (and normally should be more generous with aid if two households need to be run in terms of rent, utilities, etc.). However, there are ways to game the system, including buying/owning a second home, as somehow that counts against the applicant less than if the parents have a substantial stock portfolio. Having a lot of equity in the ski chalet or beach house is less adverse to one’s financial aid prospects than one would think. The Ivies also favor those with closely-spaced children, since you’re given more generous aid if you have another kid in college simultaneously. The powers-that-be basically come up with the max they can bleed out of you for the upcoming academic year. Lots of inequities, and I’m sure some other readers of this blog can reveal other loopholes. Mini-IRS????

  4. One family in our upper middle class neighborhood got their son a full ride to MIT. Yes he was smart. But the dad sold his business 2 years ahead of the kid taking his SATs. I have to assume that maybe he had put at away a bunch of money in cash. They sold their million dollar home, and rented something more at $1500/month. They put the money into annuities and didn’t take any distributions during FASFA. The FASFA showed $45,000 income a year. He got a full ride. My son was furious. As socialists come to take the money of the rich, they will hide it or move it away.

    • Saw first hand several kids whose parents were never-published poets or playwrights (but seemed to have money for restaurants, Bloomie’s, etc.) living in rent-controlled apts in Manhattan. Kids had gone to elite private schools, and vacationed regularly in Bermuda, funded by a grandparent. They presented as low income with no assets, so full ride was result from Harvard Financial Aid. Grandparents’ wealth is safe from FA office. After all, there is no guarantee the slacker parents will inherit the dough.

    • Glen: according to Harvard’s FA website
      “Home equity and retirement assets are not considered in our assessment of financial need.”

      However, MIT is less clear-cut: “Factors not in the calculation but considered
      How your parents have prepared so far⁠ for retirement
      Equity in your primary residence
      Monthly mortgage payment or rent, if any
      Financial support given to grandparents or other relatives
      Any other compulsory financial obligations, whether one-time or ongoing”

      Had this kid gone to Harvard rather than MIT, the parents wouldn’t have had to sell their $million home.
      Getting rid of the business made sense only if they hid the proceeds under a mattress, except for $6500 per year which they could sock into an IRA, and lied on the forms when answering questions about additional sources of funds/cash. But $70,000/year for four years means the business would have to net $100,000+/year before it’s worth running.

      Just wondering how this applies to my fourth kid (having thankfully gotten the others through college) — asking for a friend — as I found it hard on the FAFSA forms to hide much as you’re attaching the requisite two years of tax returns.

  5. Maybe the parents at Newton North High in that affluent Boston suburb knew this adversity score was coming. As reported in today’s WSJ, at Newton North, one-third of its students qualify for some sort of accommodations on the SAT/ACT, beating out Weston High (CT) with 1 in 4 qualifying, and Scarsdale High (NY) with 1 in 5 qualifying. Parents of kids with bonafide disabilities are understandably aggrieved (as voiced in comments on WSJ page and on WSJ FB page).

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