Emails among athletics, admissions and fundraising officials at the University of Southern California show the school explicitly weighed how much money applicants’ families could donate when determining whether to admit students.
The messages were filed Tuesday in a Boston federal court by a lawyer for two parents accused in the nationwide college-admissions cheating scandal. He claims USC wasn’t a victim of any scheme, but rather based admission decisions in part on expectations of donations from well-heeled families.
There is a long-held assumption that money influences college admissions, but the 18 previously undisclosed documents, obtained during the discovery process in the case, appear to make the direct connection in stark terms.
They include intricate spreadsheets color-coded by university officials to track “special-interest applicants”—applicants flagged for their connections to USC officials, trustees, donors or other VIPs—with direct references to past and prospective dollar amounts of gifts from their families.
Also included are email exchanges about specific candidates whose qualifications were portrayed as questionable by admissions and other officials but whose family ties and bank funds won out.
“VIP” students were described in spreadsheets with references like “given 2 million already,” “1 mil pledge,” “Previously donated $25k to Heritage Hall” and “father is surgeon,” the filings show.