Stanford information on college admissions case
Updated April 12, 2021
Stanford statement on Netflix film
A Stanford University statement regarding the Netflix film Operation Varsity Blues is available at https://www.stanford.edu/varsity-blues-film/. Additional information about Stanford’s actions in response to the federal investigation of college admissions fraud is below on this page.
Updated March 19, 2021
Summary information about Stanford and Operation Varsity Blues
In the wake of Operation Varsity Blues, Stanford has worked diligently to strengthen policies and processes and ensure the integrity of its programs going forward. A summary of key points related to Stanford and Operation Varsity Blues:
- At Stanford one coach, the former head sailing coach, pleaded guilty to charges that he accepted financial contributions to the Stanford sailing program in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford.
- Neither of these two students was admitted to Stanford. (Separately, the university also rescinded the admission of an enrolled student, not associated with the sailing program, who was found in the investigation to have submitted an application to Stanford containing false information.)
- Stanford took a number of immediate actions after the news of Operation Varsity Blues, including verifying that Stanford had received no other contributions from the foundation implicated in the government’s investigation; implementing a second-level review process to confirm the athletic credentials of all recruited student-athletes; and developing enhanced controls in the university’s gift acceptance process.
- Stanford also commissioned an external review, which found no evidence of any fraud by any individuals at Stanford other than the former sailing coach. The review recommended additional steps to strengthen policies and processes, which the university has implemented.
- The university also has redistributed the $770,000 that came to Stanford through Rick Singer’s foundation. Stanford made an immediate commitment to redirect those funds and sought guidance from the California Attorney General’s Office. That office advised that, given the nature of Singer’s scheme, the funds would best be redirected to an entity or entities supporting financially challenged high school students who are seeking financial support and enhanced preparation toward their college admission. The university then sought recommendations from an outside philanthropic consulting group on the distribution of funds within that guidance. The funds were redistributed in 2020 to 10 college access programs active in the Bay Area: Beyond 12, CollegeSpring, College Track, Peninsula Bridge, Destination College Advising Corps, Foundation for a College Education, uAspire, QuestBridge, OneGoal and Teen Success.
Updated December 3, 2019
The external review of athletic admissions commissioned by Stanford in the wake of Operation Varsity Blues has been completed. In a letter to the university community, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne reports that the review found no evidence of additional fraud at Stanford but made recommendations for policies and procedures that the university will fully adopt.
Updated June 12, 2019
As the legal process continues in the federal government’s Operation Varsity Blues investigation, Stanford continues working to review, and strengthen wherever necessary, its policies and processes. We are committed to learning from this deeply unfortunate episode and ensuring the integrity of our programs going forward.
An external review is currently under way to determine whether there were any improper actions that have not yet been identified, to examine what allowed someone to abuse the system at Stanford, and to make recommendations for processes and internal controls to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Stanford retained Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett LLP to conduct this review. We expect the review to be completed in the fall, and we will report on its conclusions after it is completed.
Stanford’s development office is strengthening its gift acceptance process by (i) increasing the regular education of development officers about the need to know prospective donors, as well as their intermediaries, and the reason for a prospective gift or pledge, (ii) producing more written materials for development officers on what to look for when gifts or pledges are offered, (iii) forming a more systematic vetting process to validate the facts of a prospective gift or pledge before the gift is brought forward for acceptance, and (iv) forming a gift acceptance committee to handle unusual situations and to make suggestions for improvements.
As previously reported, we also have put in place a second-level review of the athletic credentials of recruited student-athletes; confirmed the athletic credentials prior to admission of other recruited members of our sailing teams in recent years; confirmed the legitimate athletic credentials of all recruited student-athletes in this year’s admissions process; and verified that Stanford has received no other contributions from the foundation that was implicated in the government’s investigation. Thus far we have not identified anyone at Stanford, other than the former sailing coach and the student whose admission was rescinded, who was party to the fraud.
We continue to be in contact with state authorities regarding the proper way to redirect to another entity the funds that were contributed to the Stanford sailing program as part of this fraud. We are eager to complete this process and will do so as soon as we have received the necessary guidance.
Stanford filed a victim impact statement in this case but did not take a position on the sentencing of the former sailing coach. We take deeply seriously the violation of our norms and expectations that took place in this case, and we are committed to having the proper controls in place to prevent it from happening in the future.
Updated May 1, 2019
News stories today (May 1) have reported that a family paid $6.5 million to a college counselor, Rick Singer, in an effort to get a student admitted to Stanford.
It’s important to clarify that Stanford did not receive $6.5 million from Singer, or from a student’s family working with Singer. Stanford was not aware of this reported $6.5 million payment from the family to Singer until today’s news reports.
As we reported previously, and as federal court proceedings have made clear, the total amount that came to the Stanford sailing program through Singer’s foundation was $770,000. This consisted of $110,000 and $160,000 associated with two students – neither of whom was admitted to Stanford – and $500,000 associated with a third student. We do not know whether any of the $770,000 was part of the $6.5 million reportedly given to Singer.
The $500,000 contribution came to Stanford several months after the third student was admitted. It played no role in the admission of the student to Stanford. The student never had an affiliation with Stanford’s sailing program, nor did the student have an athletic recommendation as a recruited student-athlete.
The university reported on April 2 that it had completed a review of this third student, determined that some of the material in the student’s application to Stanford was false, and rescinded the admission of the student. In compliance with privacy laws, Stanford cannot identify or confirm that the student named in press reports is the third student.
Additional information about Stanford’s response to the college admission fraud scheme is available on this page. We remain deeply committed to providing access to Stanford each year for a diverse class of high-achieving students from all backgrounds and income levels.
Updated April 2, 2019
We have completed our review of the third student referenced in our previous communications. We determined that some of the material in the student’s application is false and, in accordance with our policies, have rescinded admission. Any credits earned have also been vacated. The student is no longer on Stanford’s campus.
Frequently asked questions
What is Stanford doing in response to the revelations this week?
The government’s charges included one against Stanford’s former head sailing coach, who was terminated from his Stanford employment and pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy on Tuesday, March 12. The government did not find that any other Stanford employees were involved, and based on the government’s investigation, we are not aware of anyone who was actually admitted to Stanford with an improper recommendation from the sailing program.
The steps we are now taking include:
- We have launched a process to confirm that no other Stanford staff members, whether administrative or associated with any other Stanford teams, were involved in this kind of activity. We have no reason to believe they were, and no evidence so far suggests they were.
- Regarding the financial contributions that were made to the sailing team, we are working to determine the most appropriate way to redirect the funds to an entity unaffiliated with Stanford, consistent with the regulations concerning such gifts. We do not have details at this point, but we want to do the right thing with funds that were contributed as part of a fraudulent activity.
- We are reviewing everything we have learned in this case to determine additional steps we need to take regarding our policies and processes. We are committed to ensuring that financial contributions to Stanford receive the proper level of scrutiny, and to ensuring that donors are never under the impression that a financial contribution will lead to a favorable admission decision. More on our admission process is below.
What does this mean for current members of the sailing team?
We fully support the incredibly accomplished and hard-working student-athletes who are members of the Stanford sailing team. Their season continues as planned. Clinton Hayes, who is in his ninth year as an assistant coach at Stanford, is serving as interim head coach.
It is critical to emphasize that there have been no allegations about any students who are members of the Stanford sailing team.
Stanford also has confirmed the legitimate sailing credentials, prior to admission, of all Stanford sailing team members who received an athletic recommendation during the admission process, going back to 2011 (before the fraudulent activity of The Key Worldwide Foundation began, according to the government).
How much money did The Key Worldwide Foundation contribute, and how many students were involved?
We have continued researching this and at this point know that a total of $770,000 was contributed by the foundation to the sailing program, in the form of three separate gifts.
The head sailing coach pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that he accepted financial contributions to the sailing program from this foundation in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford. Neither of these two students subsequently completed the application process; therefore, neither was admitted to Stanford nor enrolled at Stanford. (One of them had previously gone through Stanford’s admission process, without any involvement of the head sailing coach, and had been denied admission.)
Some of the funding from the foundation was associated with a third student, who was not named in the government’s charges on Tuesday. This student received no recommendation from the head sailing coach but was admitted to Stanford and is currently enrolled. The student has no affiliation with the sailing program. We are working to better understand the circumstances around this student and will take whatever actions are appropriate based on what we learn.
How could Stanford not have known the fraudulent nature of these gifts to the sailing program?
Absolutely fair question. Our process for reviewing gifts has rigorous checks and balances to prevent abuse, but the facts of this case are causing us to re-examine those checks and balances to determine what, if any, additional controls may be implemented to prevent such abuses in the future. This scheme was complex and sophisticated, and it used legal means (a gift from a foundation) to achieve a fraudulent purpose.
How does the admission process work, including for student-athletes?
Every student admitted to Stanford must meet the university’s high academic standards. There are no exceptions. Our admission office conducts a holistic review of each applicant, focused on academic excellence, intellectual vitality, extracurricular activity and personal context.
For students who have special talents – artistic, athletic, musical or otherwise – those talents are factored into the process. In the case of athletics, we have a process through which coaches can identify the most promising athletic recruits, who also have strong academic credentials, for the consideration of the admission office. This athletic recommendation does not at all “reserve a spot” for an applicant to Stanford; it simply designates applicants who are judged by coaches to be competitive recruits. All applicants, including those who are recommended by coaches, still must meet Stanford’s very high academic bar for admission, and the final judgment is made by the admission office.
It is well known that this high academic bar makes it harder for Stanford coaches to recruit, across the nation. But this is a critical, long-standing cornerstone of our admission process, and it is one on which we will never compromise.
How do financial contributions to Stanford affect the admission process?
We have many people, including alumni, who believe in Stanford’s mission and support it with their contributions. But a donation does not purchase a place at Stanford, and we work very hard to ensure that prospective donors to Stanford understand this.
Stanford does not accept gifts if it knows a gift is being made with the intention of influencing the admission process. We are examining how to further strengthen our policies and protocols to try to ensure there is never a misunderstanding about this.
The reality is that Stanford sends rejection letters to the vast majority of applicants from families of alumni and donors to the university. Admission to Stanford is highly competitive; our admission office conducts a rigorous review of applicants; and we absolutely insist that every admitted student meet Stanford’s high academic standards.
The nationwide news has reinforced perceptions that selective colleges only cater to the elite, the wealthy, the connected. What is Stanford’s perspective on this?
Many people don’t know about the focus that many selective colleges, including Stanford, place on providing opportunity to students who are not wealthy or do not have a family history of attending college. We conduct extensive outreach efforts to encourage applications to Stanford from high-achieving students of all backgrounds. At Stanford, nearly 20 percent of our admitted students each year are the first generation in their family to attend college.
Financial aid is also a critical part of our approach to accessibility for students of all backgrounds and means. Stanford admits U.S. students without regard to their ability to pay, and the university provides financial aid such that every student admitted to Stanford can afford to attend. Families with annual incomes of under $125,000 pay no tuition at Stanford, and 82 percent of our students graduate without any student debt to follow them.
What will Stanford do if it discovers that a student did not provide accurate information on an application for admission?
Applicants to Stanford sign a statement verifying that the information they are providing is accurate. If it is found to be inaccurate, they can be disenrolled from the university or have their admission cancelled, as has regretfully happened in the past.
If some of the funds provided to the sailing program already have been spent, how will Stanford redirect the funds to other sources?
We are working through the details, but our intention is to ensure that the total amount originally provided to the sailing program is redirected.
Will this issue delay admission decisions for the upcoming 2019-20 academic year?
No. We plan to issue admission decisions as scheduled.
Stanford statements and other related stories.