Can $2.2 Million Buy a Harvard Education?

harvardHarvard photo via Shutterstock

So can a Harvard education be bought? On some levels, yes, of course, what a stupid question. The school isn’t a charity. But the other side of the question is more troubling: Where, exactly, is the line between positioning a kid to get into a good university, and actually greasing the wheels with money?

The Globe lays out a story this morning of a couple from Hong Kong who hired ex-Harvard professor and speaker Mark Zimny, who runs IvyAdmit, an education consultant that helps kids get into fancy colleges.

The implication is that the Chows don’t understand the American higher education system, but they sure understand how things get done in America. They tried to buy influence. They threw money at their problem. They hired a lobbyist—only to find out that their lobbyist ended up not meeting their expectations, allegedly. The easiest remedy would be to fire the guy, but the couple wants to take it further: They want their money back.

Not likely. I can appreciate an argument like that made by Zimny’s lawyers, according to the Globe:

But a failed motion by Zimny’s lawyers to dismiss says the Chows’ agreement with Zimny was “nebulous.” It goes on to argue that legal blame should lie with the Chows because “common law counts do not serve as an insurance policy for poor judgment, avarice, or any other of many human failings.” In other words: caveat emptor.

Basically, it’s your own fault for being an unsophisticated consumer, even if you are rich. Maybe especially if you are rich.

  • scallywag

    Then again how where the Chows led to believe that an influx of cash donations would somehow get their sons into an ivy league school? Is this how some parents actually manage to get their children into ivy league schools, which is to say if one has the financial means one can essentially guarantee placement at an ivy league college?

  • LaughingHysterically

    Well, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? This guy was funneling money for years into Harvard’s endowment through these student applicant contributions. Why would Harvard or any of the other Ivy league schools investigate this matter when they were getting half-way decent students who pay full tuition and donate millions to their schools? The donations were being done through Zimny and his associates so the school is covered from obvious bribery charges. You don’t think these schools have multi-billion dollar endowments simply from savvy investing do you? Someone outside of the alumni boosters has to do the legwork in pumping up those endowments so these schools can offer need-blind admissions. Less financially secure kids get a free education, these helicopter kids get the school of their choice, the universities are wealthier, and the consultants pocket their ridiculous fees. Everybody wins.

    The one thing the lawsuit doesn’t cover are the particular methods that Zimny and his associates used in helping these kids get into their schools. Sure the obvious things such as tutors and extracurriculars were mentioned, however it’s the things left out of the lawsuits that make the difference. What isn’t mentioned is that Zimny and his associates hired people to do school homework/projects for their kids when their grades really depended on them. In addition, they had professionals write their school application essays for them with the kids providing minimal input into the essays – often constructing tales that the professionals know from experience would sway admissions committee members into approving of these kids.

    Zimny and his associates do know the admissions process from the inside out, having sat in on admissions committee meetings during their application review process as silent observers. Yes, that’s right, these paid private consultants have sat in on admissions committee meetings seeing first hand what the committees review and consider important in evaluating applications. With this first-hand knowledge of how the process works, Zimny and his associates can easily construct a story and background that will persuade these committees to accept kids they have apply. The donations don’t hurt and indeed, according to Zimny, are the first things the school’s assess for each new applicant.

    These schools are in collusion with these consultants on an ad hoc basis to continue the current system. It’s just unfortunate for them that this case has been brought to light as they will have to be more careful in the future when working with Mr. Zimny and his associates.