Admissions Fraud – how to prevent high powered individuals from gaming the system

This morning, the justice department charged more than 30 people for fraudulently helping their kids get into a who’s who of higher education institutions.

According to what’s in the news, there were 2 different strategies that were employed, and in many circumstances individuals within the institution were complicit in the fraud. These strategies include:
  • Cheating on standardized tests
  • Fraudulently using athletic admissions processes

Obviously, this could have some serious ramifications to those institutions involved, which could include fines, NCAA penalties, and lawsuits.

How does an admissions department prevent this from happening?

Good question. The challenge is that the attract-to-onboard process spans multiple steps and includes different people at those steps – any of which could be a target for this type of fraud.

  • Coaches who would put students on athletic recruiting programs
  • The college board who is responsible for ensuring that standardized tests are conducted properly
  • Admissions counselors who make admissions decisions

Interestingly, the mechanics involved in this scenario are not that different than the mechanics of other types of fraud from which organizations have to protect themselves:

  • Financial Aid personnel stealing social security numbers and selling them on the dark web
  • Accounts Payable clerks creating fake vendors and paying them
  • A student stealing his professor’s credentials and changing his grades

There are two common techniques that organizations can follow to minimize risk for somebody gaming the attract-to-onboard process:

  1. Ensure that there are several people involved in the decision-making process –segregation of duties. A process that requires segregation of duties makes it much more difficult to commit this type of fraud – especially when there is an audit trail of who approved what.
  2. Provide visibility into the set of students being offered admission – so that it’s easier to identify outlier applicants.

Doing this will make it much more difficult for this type of fraud to happen in the future. And, in the event that bad actors find a way to circumvent these protections, the institution will have air cover by being able to demonstrate exactly what's being done and how seriously it takes the integrity of its admissions process.

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