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What is getting into a “top” college worth?

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For the month of April, Econ Extra Credit is inviting you to watch the film “Operation Varsity Blues,” available on Netflix. Netflix

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“Prestigious.” The word is used to describe trusted news sources, high-quality television shows and venerable institutions. Prestige is something people pay money for.

Our April documentary selection examines how one man capitalized on the prestige of higher education in the United States to scam college admissions at some of the country’s most elite colleges and universities.

The 2019 college admissions scandal sent actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin to jail (however briefly). In “Operation Varsity Blues,” director Chris Smith shows us how Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the scheme, was able to “guarantee” acceptance to Ivy League schools for the children of parents willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Singer’s tactics included editing photos of applicants to make them look like athletes, bribing athletic coaches, convincing testing proctors to give students extra time to take SAT or ACT exams and even having someone else take standardized tests on behalf of a student.

The scam fed the American fascination with the lives of the rich and famous and shed light on an uncomfortable reality: that college admissions are far easier to rig, and to buy, than most elite universities will admit.

We hope you’ll watch “Operation Varsity Blues” with us. In the coming weeks, we’ll dig into the concept of “prestige” and what higher education is worth.

As always, please let us know what you think. Why did you decide to go or not to go to college? Did you have a choice? We’re at extracredit@marketplace.org. 

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