Outside-IN

The college admissions scandal and the unwarranted reputation of top-tier schools

From my standpoint, the education such colleges and universities provide is different, not better

Mar 15, 2019 @ 11:45 am

By Carolyn McClanahan

The college cheating scandal reawakened a slow-burning anger I've battled for years.

I was lucky. I grew up in a household with two parents who loved me. Neither were high school graduates. When my father got out of the Navy at the age of 38, he "retired" to Mississippi and opened a donut shop. From the age of 6, I worked in that donut shop, resentful that I didn't have a normal life watching cartoons on Saturday morning.

I became a math whiz by adding the price of donuts in my head. I learned how to deal with people from all walks of life, all buying my dad's donuts. At 4 in the morning, I would go buy a newspaper for my dad and we would read it together while the donuts were rising. That was my coaching to do well in school.

When I made a perfect score on the math section of the ACT, the teachers told me I was smart and would be able to go to college. My parents were proud but I had to figure out how I was going to make it happen — they didn't have money or a clue about college. Thankfully, my public high school had a college fair and all the Mississippi schools were in attendance. I didn't know people like me could go to places like Harvard.

(More: Advisers see college admissions scandal as tip of the iceberg)

One recruiter went so far as to take me on a visit of their campus — my parents didn't know you were supposed to visit colleges. That school, Mississippi University for Women, offered me a full academic ride. I could afford free, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The professors instilled a joy of learning and taught me to believe in myself. They also convinced me to apply to medical school.

University of Mississippi was a public in-state school and I could borrow money to pay my way through medical school. Thankfully, I received a full scholarship my first year of school. Why? I was the poorest student in the class. It was the first time I realized my family was poor.

The clinical years at Ole Miss were amazing. We had to do everything because staffing was low. Starting IVs, suturing and delivering babies were part of the training — as a medical student. Once I was a resident, I realized how lucky I was— people from Ivy League schools didn't have a clue about clinical care. They may have been good people and book smart, but they didn't know how to take care of patients.

Eventually I went back to school for fun to learn about financial planning. My passion was kindled and I opened my own RIA. There are many intersections of finance and health, especially with aging clients, so I co-founded a software company to ease the logistics of planning for aging. It is an honor to speak and write nationally about health and personal finance. Not bad for a girl from the South who went to state schools.

Meanwhile, though, I've had a chip on my shoulder about higher education for a long time. It infuriates me when someone says, "They went to a 'name-brand school' so they must be smart." Does that make me dumb?

Politicians in high positions who have "pedigrees" make decisions for the masses, not ever having been a part of that group. I've advocated for common sense health-care reform, but the groupthink that exists in both the world of "leading" economists and health-care organizations sees no way but the old way that is not working.

Am I angry because I was not a part of that "upper echelon" of top-tier schools? From my standpoint, the main benefit such schools offer is access to a wealthy network. The education they provide is different, not better. I'm grateful for my life experience and wouldn't trade it for the world.

There are many good wealthy people, but I am angry because many in that wealthy crowd are doing little to nothing to make the world a better place.

They live in their ivory towers and have minimal understanding of the day-to-day problems people face. Their facades of happiness and purchased success hide the fact that many are miserable people. This college cheating scandal emphasizes their depravity.

Carolyn McClanahan is the founder of Life Planning Partners.

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