We Can Do Better Than Varsity Blues

Opinion | Higher Education

We Can Do Better Than Varsity Blues

By Lori Sparger     Apr 13, 2019

We Can Do Better Than Varsity Blues
The Bell Tower on the campus of Purdue University.

There’s no lack of commentary about the recent college admissions scandal (codenamed Varsity Blues by FBI agents) that featured well-heeled parents exchanging hefty sums to get their kids slots at America’s most revered universities. But if we’re being honest, who was surprised to learn that people of influence are using that influence to benefit their children?

The truth is that if you’re reading this, you should probably pause for a moment and take a look in the mirror.

The One Percent aren’t alone in trying to use their connections and spend money to make things easier for their children. It is standard practice in the upper middle class where work and family connections shape countless internship and first job decisions. Whether you’ve used your influence to help your child get an internship or hired based on a personal connection, you’ve likely helped stratify the workplace to the detriment of first generation college students who arrive on campuses without family connections or a full understanding of exactly how much they matter.

At Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts, we teach a large number of first-generation college students, and we’re working to level the playing field.

Our Liberal Arts Career Center opened two years ago with a mission of helping all of our students get a foot in the door, to get their resumes into the hands of real people and not lost in applicant-tracking systems. We are confident that our courses give students the core skills that employers want, and that our students can show how they will add value in the workplace once they have the opportunity to interview..

The trick, of course, is to get students that chance to make their case.

We’ve done that with partners like Ascend Indiana, an Indianapolis-based non-profit that serves as a talent resource in the general business space. Ascend’s mission is to keep top talent in Indiana. Working with our career center staff, they meet with students to understand their skills and aspirations to help create matches with the companies and roles in their network.

We’ve done that with partners like Parker Dewey, whose innovative micro-internship approach offers an online connection between students and projects. With a low-risk commitment of time and resources for both students and employers, the platform reaches beyond academic majors and personal connections to identify students who can get things done once they are given a chance.

We’ve done that by creating opportunities for our students to build their own social capital. Through panels and guest speakers offered by the career center, students can meet people (and learn to not be intimidated by titles) who can help advance their careers. Students are encouraged to make professional connections via LinkedIn, so that when they begin internship and job searches, they can reach into their networks to leverage opportunities for themselves.

Varsity Blues prompted a host of clever memes (et tu, Aunt Becky?), but it should also be a call to action. There’s no expectation here that upper-middle-class parents will—or even should—stop helping their children. All of us hope that our children will have a better life than our own. But we can be more thoughtful about the impact of our actions—and actively work to extend a hand to the talented, hard-working young people who have great value to offer and need only a chance to prove what they can do.

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