California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three laws Friday in response to a college admissions scandal where more than 50 people have been arrested and accused of using bribes to get their children into elite schools.
The laws tighten rules on when colleges can admit students who don’t meet standard eligibility requirements; require schools to tell the Legislature if they give preferential treatment to some applicants; and prevent people found guilty in the scandal from receiving tax benefits stemming from bribes that might have been disguised as charitable contributions.
“This package of bills strikes at the forces that keep the doors of opportunity closed to too many people in our state,” Newsom said.
The admissions case included Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, who face charges for their part in a scheme where wealthy parents paid college coaches to get their kids into schools.
Jeffrey Bizzack, a California real estate developer, pleaded guilty in July to paying $250,000 to get his son into the University of Southern California as a fake volleyball recruit. Another defendant is accused of paying $400,000 to get her son into the University of California, Los Angeles as a fake soccer recruit.
The laws are among 21 bills relating to higher education that Newsom signed into law. Some underwent significant changes before getting passed by the Legislature.
One proposal would have banned California colleges and universities from giving preferential treatment to applicants related to donors or alumni or risk losing state-funded benefits, such as Cal Grants — taxpayer money that students can use to pay for college that they don’t have to pay back.
Eventually, the bill was changed to require colleges and universities, both public and private, to tell the state Legislature if they use preferential treatment in their admissions process.
“We should know how prevalent donor and alumni-based preferential treatment is in California, so we can compare that to the amount of state-funded benefits, like CalGrants, flowing toward the school,” said bill author Assemblyman Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco.
Another law, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, makes changes to when state-funded schools can admit students who don’t meet the school’s admission requirements. The University of California and California State University systems have “admission by exception” policies.
The new law requires at least three senior campus administrators to approve an exception. Plus, schools must document who those administrators are and must have a policy for an acceptable rationale for every admission by exception.
University of California system spokeswoman Sarah McBride said the school will review the law’s requirements. She noted the school has already audited its admissions procedures and made changes, including coming up with a rationale for admission by exception decisions.
“We share the outrage and concerns over fraudulent activity to try to gain admission at public and private universities across the nation, including in a few instances at the University of California,” McBride said.