SALT LAKE CITY — The recent college admissions scandal that resulted in federal bribery charges against dozens of wealthy parents attempting to get their children admitted to the nation's most selective universities was "almost predictable," says the president of Utah Valley University.
UVU President Astrid Tuminez, who grew up in poverty in the Philippines and earned a master's degree at Harvard University and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said when selective institutions have low acceptance rates, students and their families feel pressure to "game it any way they can" to gain admission.
Data scientist and author Cathy O'Neil addresses the dynamics in her book, "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy," Tuminez said.
Top colleges and universities seek to increase numbers of applications, knowing that they will reject most of them, so they are more selective, which is rewarded by college rankings.
As O'Neil explains, "When you measure what you measure, you start an arms race and in fact, very logically, end with this very thing, cheating and gaming it," Tuminez said on Wednesday during a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards.
Tuminez, who was Microsoft's regional director for corporate, external and legal affairs for Southeast Asia before she was selected UVU president last year, said she witnessed similar conduct in Asia.
"In Asia, I saw this every single day because there’s so much money in Asia. So Hong Kong bankers, Shanghai entrepreneurs, Singaporean real estate moguls, everybody was doing this, making the profile from freshman year, curating the profile of (their) kids so they have a higher chance of getting in.
"When you have these dynamics happening and the money is there to do some of these things, it’s almost really predictable and logical that these type of things would happen, faking the athletic record or putting your kid’s head on someone else’s body," she said.
Tuminez, president of a university that has open enrollment, said the cheating scandal "is really kind of laughable and depressing at the same time."
UVU "is so different. We are the university that says come as you are. I use that phrase a lot and I mean that phrase when I say it."
Social media posts of fans of UVU joked about the scandal saying "thankfully, we're never going to have this problem because we're open enrollment," she said.
UVU is proud of that role in Utah, she said. The university becoming increasingly diverse and 38 percent of its students are the first in their families to attend college.
Nearly half of its student attend part time and 77 percent work. About a third are older than 25 and more than a third are married. Twenty-one percent have one child.
One of its greatest challenges is dealing with growth of the institution, which serves an area with the fastest growing K-12 population statewide, Tuminez said. Its diverse offerings drive enrollment as well. Students can earn certificates and academic degrees, which include 11 master's degree programs.
Next week, the campus will conduct Tuminez's installation at the university's seventh president, its first woman leader. A weeklong observance is planned with the formal installation set for Wednesday.
Tuminez said there is much to celebrate.21 comments on this story
"What I love about UVU is that when you look at the diversity of the student body, it really does reflect first chances, first time, full time in four years; second chances, third chances. The majority of notes that I get as president, from people who want to share their stories with me, are more about those second, third and fourth chances, divorced moms, formerly addicted people," she said.
People come to UVU "because of this great hope they have that they can turn their lives around or maybe they didn't think they were college material but they can come to UVU with open enrollment and I love that," Tuminez said.