The Department of Education will probe Stanford to see if the University violated federal laws governing student financial aid programs, after it was discovered that Stanford Sailing received $770,000 in contributions in exchange for the recommendation of applicants’ acceptance to the University as purported sailing recruits.
Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda confirmed in an email to The Daily that the University received a letter from the Education Department regarding the latter’s “preliminary investigation.”
“We are reviewing the request for information and will work with the Department to respond in an appropriate and timely manner,” Miranda wrote, noting he was unable to provide the letter to The Daily.
Stanford Sailing received bribes in the form of donations from the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), a sham charity run by William Rick Singer as he facilitated the largest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice. The scandal involves over 50 people, including four Stanford affiliates, with the potential for more to be named.
“It’s disgraceful to see anyone breaking the law to give their children an advantage over others,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told the Washington Post earlier this month. “The department is looking closely at this issue and working to determine if any of our regulations have been violated.”
The Department of Education will investigate all eight universities named in the scandal, according to USA Today, though it is unclear if and how the nature of the investigation will vary between universities. A letter addressed to the University of Texas at Austin president notes that the Education Department will explore whether the school engaged “in substantial misrepresentation about the nature of its educational programs.”
A similar letter to the University of Southern California president reads that schools must demonstrate they are “adequately administrating” Higher Education Act programs in accordance with the law, in order to participate in those programs.
Though Stanford has not disclosed the specifics of the letter it received, its website notes that “the federal government sponsors approximately 80 percent” of its 6,000-plus externally sponsored projects, including the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The Education Department can withhold such federal money if deemed appropriate.
Former Stanford Sailing coach John Vandemoer was fired on March 12 after agreeing to plead guilty to accepting $270,000 to Stanford Sailing in exchange for agreeing to recruit applicants who were not actually competitive sailors.
The remaining $500,000 was discovered by Stanford to have been donated after a female student with “falsified sailing credentials” was accepted to the University. Vandemoer has not faced further charges for the additional $500,000, and the student was accepted through the regular admissions process, not as a sailing recruit. She is the only known person to enroll at Stanford after involvement with the scandal, though her identity and potential punishment remain unknown.
Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell have repeatedly written that the University is unaware of any other fraudulent activity.
“If at any point the university learns that any parent or student may have falsified information as part of an application to Stanford, the university will investigate,” they wrote on March 21. “As has long been our practice, we rescind a student’s admission to Stanford if we determine the student submitted false information.”
Separate from the federal investigation, the University is also one of several targets, including Singer and all eight universities involved in the scandal, of a class action lawsuit alleging that students who applied to the implicated universities “did not receive what they paid for — a fair admissions consideration process.” In response, the University said the suit was “without merit.”