Stanford information on college admissions case

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged a number of people around the country in an alleged scheme in which payments were made to try to win the admission of prospective students to a number of U.S. colleges and universities. Stanford’s former head sailing coach pleaded guilty to a charge in this case. This page provides information from Stanford University about these issues and will be updated as new information becomes available.

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.

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.

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