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Question of the Week — Should we shut the "back door" to college admissions and end tax breaks for donations to colleges and universities?

Posted  May 1, 2019

The New York Times reported today that federal prosecutors are pursuing a new set of parents in the college admissions fraud scandal, sending ripples of fear through elite circles in Southern California and stirring speculation about which well-heeled executive or celebrity might be the next to be charged. There is little disagreement that the parents caught up in the bribery scandal did something wrong. Criminal, even. For many, however, this growing bribery scandal also shines a light on the age-old way certain wealthy parents secure college admission for their children – cash donations.

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sees little difference between the two paths, describing the bribery scandal as “just a new version of [the] old story” of wealthy families buying college admission for their children. In the “old story,” on top of all but guaranteeing admission for their children, families also receive tax benefits for their donations, perpetuating the entire system.

Sen. Wyden criticized the tax breaks as “another example of how the tax code helps the wealthiest Americans get even further ahead.” He stressed that “middle-class families don’t have access to this back door [admission] for their children. If the wealthy want to grease the skids, they shouldn’t be able to do so at the expense of American taxpayers.”

To even the scales, Sen. Wyden announced his intent to introduce legislation that would end the tax benefit for families who make donations to colleges and universities before or during the enrollment of their children.

On the other hand, colleges and universities rely heavily on donations. Ending tax breaks for donations, even in limited circumstances, would likely drastically reduce a much-needed source of income to colleges and universities.

Should we shut the "back door" to college admissions and end tax breaks for donations to colleges and universities?

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