The Hollywood scams, where famous people bought college admissions for their kids, were not the whole story. It turns out that many wealthy families in not so glamorous Illinois have been transferring custody of their kids so they can get need-based financial aid to reduce college tuition. As reported by ProPublica and the Wall Street Journal, the practice was recommended by a higher education consulting company in Illinois called Destination College. The WSJ found that in Lake County Illinois alone there were 38 cases in which wealthy parents gave up custody of their kids in their junior or senior year of high school so they would have better chance of qualifying for financial aid. Custody was often transferred to co-workers, friends or family members who didn’t have the same net-worth.
Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois described the practice as a scam. Borst found that of 14 students whose guardians transferred custody, three completed their freshman year and 11 were planning to enroll next year; the University reduced the financial aid each received.
Some of the families involved in this scam are reported to be living in million dollar houses in the suburbs of Chicago. One parent who admitted to participating in the scam said they did so after the strain of spending $600,000 sending their other kids to college; this in spite of the family’s income of $250,000 a year. If even wealthy families are frustrated by the cost of higher education, what does this say about the US higher education system and what does it mean for those without wealth? For them it means debt that often burdens the most productive years of their lives.