In a sequel to the ‘Varsity Blues’ admissions scandal, parents are gaming guardianship

In Illinois, wealthy parents relinquished guardianship of their kids to access tens of thousands of dollars of need-based aid.


July 31, 2019

Wealthy families have found a new way to game the college admissions system without facing the legal consequences of Aunt Becky.

According to ProPublica, parents of college applicants have started giving up guardianship of their kids to allow them to collect need-based financial aid. These families would otherwise not be eligible for the aid. 

It’s happening in Illinois — and perhaps the rest of the U.S. 

ProPublica’s investigation focused on the Chicago area, finding at least 4 dozen guardianships that were filed for this purpose in one suburban county in the last 18 months.  

One woman — whose family makes $250k annually and lives in a $1.2m house — told the WSJ she transferred guardianship of her daughter, who then claimed annual income of $4.2k (from summer jobs). She received $20k in need-based aid, some of which she will not have to pay back. 

The woman said she was following advice from a consulting group called Destination College. 

The legal but sketchy basis

In Illinois, guardianship can be transferred if parents and children consent and the court deems the transfer to be in the child’s best interest.

Mari Berlin, an attorney who has overseen many of these guardianships, says the families have been using it as a solution to deal with the expensive price of college. 

“It is in the best interest of the minor, which is the statute’s purpose,” she told ProPublica

But many of these kids, from families making six figures, are taking from a limited pool of grants that would normally go to poorer students. 

“It’s a scam,” the Univ. of Illinois’ director of undergraduate admissions told ProPublica. “They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.”

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