Did rich Missouri families give up custody of kids to get college aid? How’s that legal?

Dozens of wealthy Missouri families transferred guardianship of their high school students to get them more college financial aid.
Dozens of wealthy Missouri families transferred guardianship of their high school students to get them more college financial aid. Bigstock

It’s illegal to enter into a sham marriage to skirt immigration laws. It’s illegal to change your name to avoid creditors.

Yet for some reason, it’s not a crime to give up legal guardianship of your kids to get them a break on college tuition.

Following a report of the cynical scheme occurring at the University of Illinois, university officials across Missouri are unearthing cases in which wealthy families are suspected of relinquishing custody of their high school students so they appear to be poorer or independent adults who qualify for college financial aid intended for lower-income applicants.

The racket may be even more extensive, and no less outrageous, than the celebrity-driven admissions scandal that burst into the collective consciousness earlier this year with infuriating tales of the rich and famous lying, cheating and bribing to ensure their privileged kids gained admission to elite universities.

This newly exposed chicanery is just as fraudulent as what went on in that scandal, and it ought to be made explicitly illegal, not just in Missouri but nationwide. It’s also unethical on its face and, since needed funds are being diverted from more disadvantaged families, it’s immoral.

While the earlier made-for-TV college admissions scandal, which has inspired an upcoming Lifetime network movie, netted some 50 alleged perpetrators, the guardianship scam could be more widespread, potentially playing out at universities across the country.

There are dozens of moneyed families with students at Missouri universities who’ve allegedly given up guardianship of their children to siphon off federal aid. Officials at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla have identified nearly two dozen students. The University of Missouri has found just under 10. But the investigations are far from over across the university system.

Did these well-off parents give one moment of thought to the lessons they were imparting to their college-bound kids? Having dishonorably wedged their way into a university with their parents’ blessings, what other corners might these students be tempted to cut — in either their academic or professional careers?

And what of the impact on the greater society? Sen. Bernie Sanders exhorted the Democratic presidential debate audience last week to “stand up and take on the greed and corruption of the ruling class of this country.” A Fox News focus group guru noted after the debates, “The hostility of these Democratic candidates, most of them, to corporate America, to CEOs, to those who’ve been successful, is significant. … The audience just lit up with applause. … I say to every CEO who’s watching right now, and every corporate executive, they’re after you.”

If so, yet more tales of well-to-do families cheating to get into college, or to gain admission more cheaply at the expense of the rest of us, certainly can’t help quiet the crowd.