Foster Youth Advocate: How the College Admissions Scandal Can Produce Some Good (Guest Column)

Courtesy of Subject
Peter Samuelson

Producer Peter Samuelson argues that any scholarships or income from fines be redirected to underprivileged students — especially those in the foster care system.

It’s hard to pick the most distasteful player in the cast of characters populating "Admissionsgate." The "consultants" who deployed bribery and phony exam-takers to "side-door" admissions applications? The proctors, teachers and instructors who willingly perverted the testing exercise? The parents who cynically corrupted their kids’ admission process with a gross (and richly funded) sense of entitlement? The administrators and coaches who proved themselves all too corruptible?

In this tale, villains abound. Victims, too, for every freshman class spot fraudulently awarded represents theft from a worthy child — with none more worthy and deprived than the 435,000 disadvantaged foster children in the United States. As the volunteer president and founder of First Star, the national 501(c)(3) that creates pathways to college for foster youth, I see daily the difference that higher education makes in the life of an underprivileged student, offering a pathway to a healthy and happy adult life. Yet, after "aging out" of the foster care system at 18, a tiny 9 percent of these kids get to college — while 50 percent are soon indigent, homeless or incarcerated.

Once removed from their families because of abuse or neglect and placed under the government’s care, foster children become the children of all of us. Yet, they can barely dream of the privilege afforded to the children of Admissionsgate — and indeed, all too often, we leave them deprived of the education that would pivot their lives to the light.

I’ve made two dozen films as a producer or executive producer. Surely those of us blessed with the megaphone of working in media have a special responsibility to advocate via the stories we tell — against apathy and inhumanity, and for justice and decency. I suggest we still have the opportunity to craft a happier ending for this tale.

This week, Wanda Austin, USC's interim president, indicated that at least $1.3 million in donations from those alleged to have been involved in Admissionsgate will be redirected to scholarships for underprivileged students. It’s a wonderful step, and we should do even more. 

If financial penalties are imposed by the criminal justice system on Admissionsgate’s perpetrators, let’s be sure that the greater part of all of the fines generated goes to helping qualified, needy students get to college — with a significant portion allocated specifically to foster youth.

Life’s inequities are legion — but not all are as visible as Admissionsgate. This sad episode will wrap up eventually, but too many of our fellow citizens, and many of the youngest among them will remain trapped at the margins of our society. So, let’s seize the opportunity now to transform outrage into good, and keep arcing our most troubling stories toward righteous conclusions.

Peter Samuelson has produced more than two dozen films, including the recently completed Foster Boy, starring Matthew Modine and Louis Gossett, Jr. He is also the founder of five leading children's charities, including First Star.