Making College Accessible: moving past Operation Varsity Blues

  • High School
Mary Moser

I looked up from my Reference Desk spot to see CNN airing a live FBI announcement that Lori Laughlin, Felicity Huffman and others had been issued warrants for their arrest due to a college entrance scandal. The FBI had uncovered that a group of parents had worked with coaches, test proctors, and a ringleader to cheat on exams, fake learning disabilities, and lie about being student athletes to get into a host of colleges. 

It happened that as the story was unfolding, advisories that are hosted in the library were streaming in to prepare for their student-led conferences with their advisors. One student stopped and watched and asked me questions about what was happening. He left me with these parting words: “I’m just out here trying to get a partial athletic scholarship. I know my family isn’t go to pay for college. They can’t afford it.”

There it is.  Even the idea of taking a spot from an athlete hadn’t registered for these families. A spot for a student who really wanted to go to college but couldn’t afford the price tag.  The goal was a name. The goal was a particular school for their child. Whatever it takes.

In schools, where we push for college and career readiness, we must be better than the example set by those seen in Operation Varsity Blues.  A lot of schools are doing better. 

There are many nuances to why this happened.  If I was going to tell you my top three things to advocate for within the school building, these would be them. 

Don’t push college.  Push doors of opportunities. 
            Be realistic with students about what doors a college degree can open for them.  Our society has changed and careers without a degree are harder to come by for people.  Repeating the facts and figures won’t suddenly make a student take the application and apply.  Instead, I like to push the idea that here is the data and reasons why you do X,Y or Z. Even if you believe you have an athletic scholarship lined up, a spot at a job right away, or don’t think you can hack college, you should keep the door open for a change of heart.  Apply to at least one school so that by September, if you want to go to school, you have a door open. Show students the different paths after secondary school and have them reflect on which doors they want to open for themselves. This could be accomplished through college field trips, college fairs on campus, career projects, spirit days around college/career.  What else do you do at your school to showcase the opportunities available to students?

Have faith and support your students in hard classes.
            I’ve mentioned the retention rate at college as having good indicators in high school in this post. It’s not a guarantee, but enrollment in courses like Advanced Placement and taking the exams (pass or fail) will be a better predictor of a student successfully continuing onto their second year in college.  That starts with us.  We need to find ways to promote AP courses to all of our students and to quit being gatekeepers like Nathan Bowling-Gibbs mentions in his Seattle Times op-ed.  If our students falter in those classes because it’s the first big push, let’s find a way to be better in our support.  It used to be that students deserved to be in AP courses. Let’s flip that and talk about educators deserving to teach AP courses.  Their goal should be as much to gets students passing tests as it should be to making all students in that course able to see themselves as AP-worthy and AP-capable. 

Help our First Generation students More.
            Applying to college is daunting. Whether it’s visualizing yourself as a college student or finding the right college for you, that’s just the beginning. Sorting out financial aid, work study, jobs, or connecting with a new group of classmates challenges everyone. .  Those students who don’t have background knowledge at their household have a Mount Everest to climb. We have to help all students, but we need to help these students more directly and more often. They’re at a disadvantage that our secondary system has a chance of hurdling if we identify them, find out what help they and their guardians need, and then create programs to support them.  In fact, as I was thinking about this scandal and this post, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if all of our students that needed extra attention and had the dream of post-secondary education could get a college mentor? My school has programs like Upward Bound (in fact we have 3 separate programs!) and AVID (currently serving 140 students) that already facilitate the work with some students.  Unfortunately, they can’t house all students. Nor do the programs fit the needs of all students. We have a college and career counselor who works with students on their High School and Beyond plan, with Running Start students, and in bringing college information into the building. 

I envision, however, a mentor who could check in with student and family about their goal in a more detailed manner than our advisor teachers or 1 college and career counselor to 1250 students.  We already have community mentors who meet with certain students once a week during school through our partnership with Communities in Schools. What if we created a specific mentorship program that was about college and career for a small cohort?  Those students who can’t fit AVID into their course schedule. We have students who academically are too high for AVID and would be stifled by the structure...yet don’t have people at home that know the ropes of applying, getting into, and persisting through college.  This is a pie in the sky type of program. The idea that every student who wants a mentor will get a mentor. But, innovation has to start somewhere, right?

What do you think are the most important things that our schools should be thinking about and implementing to make college an accessible options to more students and families?


  • Advanced Placement
  • College and Career Talk
  • College Readiness
  • Operation Varsity Blues
  • Supporting First Generation Students
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Mary Moser Board

Library Media Specialist at Clover Park School District

I work as a high school Library Media Specialist in the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Washington. This is my fifth year as a LMS, and my tenth year as a teacher.Before switching to the library, I taught 9th grade Humanities, which is the area that I certified in National Boards in 2013.