David Sidoo, of Vancouver leaves following his federal court hearing Friday, March 15, 2019, in Boston. Sidoo pleaded not guilty to charges as part of a wide-ranging college admissions bribery scandal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via AP)

U.S. college bribery scandal unlikely in Canada, but inequality persists

Canada doesn’t have standardized admissions tests like the SAT or ACT

The college bribery scandal is spurring discussion about the ways in which money greases the wheels of the U.S. admissions process — and while most acknowledge there are fewer shortcuts to securing a spot in Canadian schools, advocates say the system is slanted to give well-off students a leg up.

American authorities have accused dozens of people of taking part in a $25-million bribery scheme in which parents allegedly paid to ensure their children’s enrolment in elite schools. Among the parents charged are Vancouver businessman David Sidoo, who has pleaded not guilty, and TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

The selection process at Canadian schools is heavily weighted towards high school report cards, leaving less wiggle room for the sort of chicanery being alleged in the U.S., an admissions consultant says.

“The competitive landscape is very different in the United States,” said Robert Astroff, president of Astroff Consultants, which helps students prepare for their post-secondary studies. “There’s much less opportunity to game the system in Canada.”

Canada doesn’t have standardized admissions tests like the SAT or ACT, which some of those charged in the U.S. are accused of falsifying, said Astroff.

Prosecutors also allege that parents bribed college coaches to recruit their children. In the U.S., varsity sports are highly monetized, Astroff said, so more emphasis is placed on athletics than in Canada.

READ MORE: Students sue colleges in admissions bribery scandal

There are several other factors that can contribute to a student’s chances of getting into a U.S. school, he said: personal essays, letters of reference, class rankings and relationships with alumni.

In Canada, the admissions criteria are less subjective, he said, and an applicant’s acceptance often comes down to whether their high school grades meet the minimum requirements.

U.S. schools are sorted into a “tiered” system in which there’s a vast gulf between going to an Ivy League university and a community college, Astroff noted. There’s far less differentiation among Canadian universities, so the selection process is not nearly as cutthroat, he said.

Admissions officials at Canadian universities also stressed these cross-border distinctions.

Curtis Michaelis, admissions and recruitment co-ordinator at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., said the U.S. students he works with are often shocked at how “transparent” the Canadian system is.

Richard Levin, executive director of enrolment services and registrar at the University of Toronto, said most programs accept 50 to 60 per cent of applicants, while acceptance rates at prestigious U.S. schools can be as low as five or six per cent.

“It reflects the fact that we have larger public universities with a big breadth of programs that are generally pretty accessible,” he said.

According to a 2017 report by Statistics Canada, the post-secondary enrolment rate of 19-year-old Canadians increased from 52.6 per cent in 2001 to 63.8 per cent in 2014 — with the largest gains being made among youth from lower-income families.

But Eloise Tan, research program director of Ontario-based advocacy group People for Education, said schools and policy-makers shouldn’t be so quick to pat themselves on the back.

“It’s not just about explicit paying or bribery to get your kid into school,” said Tan. “There’s other benefits to having a higher income, that the data shows those students are just more likely to go to school.”

Tan pointed to a report released earlier this month by the provincially funded Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario suggesting that high school students who come from families where neither parent has a post-secondary degree are 33 per cent less likely to earn one themselves compared to peers whose parents completed a university or college program.

Students from lower-income families were also less likely to pursue higher education than peers from more privileged backgrounds, the report found.

Tan said parents are increasingly spending money on tutors to boost their children’s marks, but many students can’t afford those supports. And as Ontario educators struggle for resources, she said youth from higher-income families are more likely to attend schools that have the fundraising to offer extracurricular activities.

Students from lower-income families are also less likely to have access to guidance counsellors, she said, and if their parents don’t have post-secondary degrees, the application process can seem overwhelming.

“(The disadvantages) are almost invisible, but we need to make sure they don’t remain invisible,” said Tan.

Even when universities try to level the playing field, they don’t always get it right, said one researcher with the University of British Columbia.

Emily Truong-Cheung, a PhD student in sociology, said UBC changed its admission process in 2012 in an effort to diversify its student population. Instead of just looking at grades, it asks applicants about extracurricular activities and volunteer work.

She interviewed 25 applicants and found that while upper-class youth have the time and resources for volunteering, travel and extracurriculars, working-class students often spend their extra time studying and working to support their families.

“They were very embarrassed — ‘I don’t want to write about working at McDonald’s. That’s not impressive.’ “

Working-class students also felt conflicted about answering a question on overcoming adversity, she said. They wanted to show they had triumphed against the odds, but they also questioned what it had to do with their potential success at UBC.

The University of British Columbia said in a statement the school scores every aspect of an application, so administrators can “empirically” measure where every candidate falls relative to the pool of potential students.

Truong-Cheung said she didn’t think the university should abandon the new process, but it should address the concerns of working-class students. She appreciates that the U.S. scandal has opened a conversation about class inequality in Canadian universities, she added.

“I think what admission processes are trying to say is: We want the best. But what this news has shown is that the best looks a lot like someone who has a lot of resources.”

Adina Bresge and Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Learning the intricate ‘ins and outs’ of TaeKwon-do

Popular form of self-defense extends back to ancient times

Local archers off to international competition in Nashville

Deacon Barclay, Katlyne Glasier and Taylor Knudtson landed in the top 24 of NASP Canadian archers recently

Stettler youngster Jake Rock in urgent need of a liver transplant

A GoFundMe page has also been set up to help with medical expenses

Subdivision & Development Appeal Board issues Paradise Shores decision, supports County

SDAB determined the developer’s application was incomplete

Local artist captures vivid images via watercolour

Woody McGibbon continues to explore boundless possibilities via watercolour

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

Alberta Mountie found not guilty of dangerous driving causing pedestrian’s death

RCMP Const. Michelle Phillips also found not guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm

Three Albertans land ‘monster’ sturgeon in B.C.’s Fraser River

For angler who landed the exceptionally large sturgeon it was an ‘incredible dream come true’

Toronto Raptors and their diverse team celebrated worldwide

Team is made up of players from the U.S., Canada, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and Spain

Further murder charge laid after alleged targeted hits in two Alberta cities

Jimmy Truong, who is 27, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Louie Angelo Mojica

Pot edibles, topicals and extracts to hit shelves no earlier than mid-December: Ottawa

Health Canada wrapped its public consultation on the draft rules for cannabis products in February

We the North: Delirious fans celebrate as Raptors win NBA title

Supporters from all over Canada cheer Toronto’s triumph

Excited, anxious fans prepare for Raptors to play in Game 6 of the NBA Finals

The Raptors currently lead the Warriors 3-2 in the best-of-seven series

Most Read