Following the recent news of prestigious institutions being subject to admissions fraud (Operation Varsity Blues), a private university sought a proactive review of its admissions operations. Although the admissions fraud that occurred at several universities consisted of multiple alleged approaches, the specific areas viewed as potentially high risk include the admissions processes at one of its colleges for legacy students (children/siblings of alumni), children of donors, arts/music admissions and religious students. The university also considered international students across all of the institution (including international graduate students) to be potentially high risk.
Baker Tilly collaborated with university stakeholders to review relevant documentation and interview 12 individuals involved in the specific colleges’ and in international student admissions processes to understand recruitment methods and processes for legacy admissions, children of donors, international admissions and arts. We assessed the relationship and communication between the admissions office and the other key stakeholder groups. We also evaluated the consistency of admission standards applied to each of the risk areas (e.g., are there different SAT/ACT or GPA minimums for different candidates?) and assessed the decision-making practices and roles including whether individuals outside of admissions had authority to make or influence admissions decisions. We also assessed whether decision-makers were appropriately trained in their roles, were aware of baseline requirements and major/program specific requirements and evaluated whether decision-making processes are appropriately designed to meet enrollment objectives to ensure equitable decision-making. We also performed data analysis to identify potential high-risk areas for detailed testing; specifically a high-level review of admission rates by area, comparison of applicant and admitted student population data fields, and review of exceptions/overrides identified in the admissions system. We then tested a sample of admits within the potential risk areas. Finally, we summarized our work, findings and recommendations in a detailed report.
Our work allowed the university to identify potential risk areas for non-compliance with policies and practices, improper decision-making or mismanagement related to the university’s admissions processes, and determine whether there are controls in place to mitigate the risks identified. The university also used our work to determine the appropriateness of roles, reporting and communication lines, the definition of authority, and the effectiveness of personnel involved in the admissions process. Finally, our work helped the institutions to understand how controls within the admissions process were established, communicated and trained on, and assess the design of controls to address key risks.
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