On Tuesday, the scheme’s mastermind, William “Rick” Singer, pleaded guilty to federal charges. Singer, founder and CEO of the Edge College & Career Network, had cooperated with investigators in the probe.
Other parents who have been charged include PIMCO CEO Douglas Hodge, now-former Hercules Capital CEO Manuel Henriquez, top lawyer Gordon Caplan and investment fund CEO Bill McGlashan.
On Thursday, former San Francisco 49ers superstar quarterback Joe Montana revealed on Twitter that his family had used Singer’s company — but said no fraud was involved in their relationship.
Professional golfer Phil Mickelson issued a similar statement.
It is not clear how many families with whom Singer had worked paid him for legitimate college consulting services.
But on a phone conversation recorded by the FBI, Singer said that he helps “the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school” and that he had helped with 761 so-called “side-door” admissions for parents. In those cases, he said, parents wanted a guaranteed admission to a certain school for their progeny as opposed to hoping for the student being admitted based on their grades and legitimate test scores or by virtue of a large financial donation to the school.
The cost to parents ranged from $200,000 to more than $1 million.
The scandal has cast a spotlight on one of the fastest-growing industries in education: college consultants. There are now about 8,000 private educational consultants in the U.S., up from 2,500 five years ago, according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association.
College consultants say Singer was a bad actor in an otherwise important industry that helps guide students in their college process.
Demand is soaring, for kids of younger and younger ages.
“Every other day I have a 2nd-grader or a 3rd-grader family calling me asking what can we do as a 2nd grader to help with the college admissions process,” said Christopher Rim, founder and chairman of Command Education, a college-admissions consulting firm.
“I say there’s nothing we can do,” Rim said. “The only thing for you to do is let your child do what he wants to do. If he’s interested in arts, ceramics, painting, music, let your child explore those passions or talents and then take it from there.”
Many advisors charge around $15,000 a year, with others charging by the hour — some charge more than $1,000 per hour. The most expensive programs can run to hundreds of thousands of dollars, consultants say.
Some estimates say that college consultants are used by as much as 25 percent of students enrolled at private colleges.
Advisors say their focus is helping kids figure out what they want in a school, steering them to the best fit and giving them a roadmap to get there.
The bull market for consultants is expected to continue, because college acceptance rates are continuing to shrink and because the criteria for getting into top schools remains opaque.
The acceptance rate for Stanford University, one of the schools Singer has admitted victimizing in his scam, was 20 percent in 1994. Stanford’s acceptance rate is now below 5 percent.