This amusing Rick Springer college admissions scandal often involves USC in South-Central L.A. because Springer’s firm is based in Newport Beach, CA.
The New York Times tries to come up with a trend story about USC, but gets the trend mostly backwards:
“I have met these rich kids who have so much that I can’t comprehend, doing things that I can’t fathom,” said Oliver Bentley, a sophomore at the University of Southern California.
By Jennifer Medina
April 3, 2019
LOS ANGELES — Spring breaks in Bali, resort-style apartment buildings with rooftop pools and tanning beds and regular dinners out at Nobu, where a tab for four roommates could easily stretch into four digits. This is life as a student at the University of Southern California.
This is also life as a U.S.C. student: working an overnight shift to earn money for books, going hungry when the campus meal plan runs out and seething as friends presume that a $20 glass of wine is affordable.
I don’t believe I’ve ever ordered a $20 glass of wine for myself in my lifetime.
The divide between rich and poor students could hardly be more vivid than it is at U.S.C., where the children of celebrities and real estate moguls study alongside the children of nannies and dishwashers.
Now, the college admissions bribery scheme, which has ensnared dozens of wealthy parents accused of bribing their children’s way into U.S.C., has brought renewed attention to class divides on campus — and how different the student experience can be depending on the size of the bank account.
The actual story is that it used to be pretty easy to get into USC if you could afford private college tuition and looked like you might donate to the annual fund. USC was known as the University of Spoiled Children at UCLA, where I got my MBA in 1980-82. At the 1980 USC-UCLA football game, as I recall, the UCLA students mocked the USC students for having credit cards by holding up credit cards. Which, even at the time struck me as odd because clearly the vast majority of UCLA students, or at least the ones who went to the Big Game, had credit cards in 1980.
In fact, UCLA students probably had more disposable income, judging by the neighborhood next to each campus as of 1980:
UCLA: Westwood, the movie premiere capital of the United States at the time
USC: The Third World
One reason UCLA students had more money to spend was because California taxpayers picked up almost all the tab for our tuition. I paid something like $2,200 over two years for an MBA.
USC was more Protestant, UCLA more Jewish, and nobody updates their stereotypes of relative privilege slower than affluent Jews.
But nowadays it’s ridiculously hard to get into USC. Only 13% of applicants get accepted. Here are some stats about USC’s most recent freshman class:
40.8% yield 13.0% admitted
Middle 50% GPA (un-weighted, 4.0 scale) 3.70 – 3.97
Middle 50% SAT Reading & Writing 660 – 740
Middle 50% SAT Math 690 – 790
Middle 50% ACT English 32 – 35
Middle 50% ACT Math 28 – 34
Middle 50% SAT composite 1360 – 1510
Middle 50% ACT composite 30 – 34
USC Class of 2022
New first-year students 3,401
National Merit Scholars 265
First-generation college-goers 17%
Scions (legacy students) 19%
Asian / Asian American 22%
Latinx / Hispanic 16%
International (student visa holders) 13%
Multiple Ethnicities 7%
Black / African American 5%
Native American or Pacific Islander <1%
Most Represented Public High Schools
Arcadia HS; Arcadia, CA 21
Foshay Learning Center; Los Angeles, CA 19
Mira Costa HS; Manhattan Beach, CA 18
PV Peninsula HS; Rolling Hills Estates, CA 16
South Pasadena HS; South Pasadena, CA 15
Troy HS; Fullerton, CA 14
Most Represented Independent & Parochial Schools
Loyola HS; Los Angeles, CA 22
Harvard-Westlake; North Hollywood, CA 12
Flintridge Prep; La Cañada, CA 12
Mater Dei HS; Santa Ana, CA 12
Punahou School; Honolulu, HI 12
Oaks Christian School, Thousand Oaks, CA 11
One question is why USC is so fashionable nowadays that rich people are paying bribes and hiring ringers to take tests for their kids to get their kids in?
Downtown L.A. is bustling these days and they’ve relocated Skid Row from the south side down toward USC to the giant homeless encampment in the northeast side of downtown. But, still, DTLA does not yet go all the way down to USC.
I imagine having a film school is excellent advertising. Movie people get interviewed all the time, so USC gets a lot of publicity from, say, George Lucas being associated with it (besides Lucas giving $175 million to the film school). NYU’s reputation hasn’t suffered from its association with Martin Scorsese. But USC also has a famous football team.
In the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan writes about what it was like to be a college counselor at a certain unnamed private high school that was my high school’s arch-rival in debate.
The parents indicted in the college-admissions scandal were responding to a changing America, with rage at being robbed of what they believed was rightfully theirs.
APR 4, 2019
by Caitlin Flanagan
Thirty years ago, having tapped out of a Ph.D. program, I moved to Los Angeles (long story) and got hired at the top boys’ school in the city, which would soon become co-educational. For the first four years, I taught English. Best job I’ve ever had. For the next three, I was a college counselor. Worst job I’ve ever had. …
I did not know—even after four years at the institution—that the school’s impressive matriculation list was not the simple by-product of excellent teaching, but was in fact the end result of parental campaigns undertaken with the same level of whimsy with which the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor. …
I will now add as a very truthful disclaimer that the horrible parents constituted at most 25 percent of the total, that the rest weren’t just unobjectionable, but many—perhaps most—were lovely people who were so wise about parenting that when I had children of my own, I often remembered things they had told me. But that 25 percent was a lesson that a lifetime of reading novels hadn’t yet taught me. …
In the recent past—the past in which this generation of parents grew up—a white student from a professional-class or wealthy family who attended either a private high school or a public one in a prosperous school district was all but assured admission at a “good” college. It wasn’t necessarily going to be Harvard or Yale, but it certainly might be Bowdoin or Northwestern. That was the way the system worked. But today, there’s a squeeze on those kids. The very strong but not spectacular white student from a good high school is now trying to gain access to an ever-shrinking pool of available spots at the top places. He’s not the inherently attractive prospect he once was.
These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children. The changed admissions landscape at the elite colleges is the aspect of American life that doesn’t feel right to them; it’s the lost thing, the arcadia that disappeared so slowly they didn’t even realize it was happening until it was gone. They can’t believe it—they truly can’t believe it—when they realize that even the colleges they had assumed would be their child’s back-up, emergency plan probably won’t accept them.
P.S., on an obscure golf course history note, Caitlin writes:
… I would drive though the exotic air of early-morning Los Angeles to the school, which was on a street with a beautiful name, Coldwater Canyon, in a part of the city originally designated the Central Motion Picture District. It sat on a plot of land that in the 1920s composed part of the Hollywood Hills Country Club, an institution that has a Narnia-like aspect, in that not even the California historian Kevin Starr knew whether it ever really existed, or if it was merely a fiction promoted by real-estate developers trying to entice new homeowners to the Edenic San Fernando Valley. …
I can’t seem to get the page break working, so I’ll just put this all in one post, but feel free to skip up over the rest unless you find the subject of the Lost Golf Courses of the San Fernando Valley as interesting as I do:
This combination of the possibly imaginary country club and the assumption behind the building of the chapel—get the set right, and you can make the whole production work—seemed to me like something from an Evelyn Waugh novel.
I can confirm there was a Hollywood Country Club at the corner of Coldwater Canyon and Ventura Blvd in the 1920s according to this aerial photo:
The Hollywood Country Club went bankrupt during the Depression and the school bought the upper right part of the golf course in 1937. (In case you are wondering, the vanished Hollywood Country Club was different from lavish but never-completed Beverly Hills Country Club project just over the crest of the Hollywood Hills. That one was headed by Dean Martin and it went bankrupt at the end of the 1960s because the Teamsters Pension Fund in Jimmy Hoffa’s day wasn’t totally on the up and up.)
A slightly paranoid blog post wonders if anybody ever played this putative golf course or whether it was all just a real estate hoax. This picture, which a friend of mine gave me to hang on my wall 15 years ago, looks legit rather than the equivalent of a 1920s Photoshop job.
But this golf course sure is obscure, even though the history of lost golf courses in Los Angeles is otherwise pretty well documented by amateur golf historians over the last 15 years. And generally Los Angeles history is well documented since a few movie stars could be induced to add some glamor to any project.
For example, the bizarre Pine Needles ski hill behind Universal Studios sounds more like a dream I had than a once real enterprise. But we know it existed in the summer of 1939 because the promoter made sure to have Ginger Rodgers and Jimmy Stewart ski down its pine needle covered slope to get some press coverage.
Okay, I’ve found a more detailed article:
Finally in 1919, plans to build a Hollywood Country Club actually led to completion. A new group, with Douglas Fairbanks and Sydney Chaplin serving on the board of directors, secured a $200,000 option on 140 acres in the area near North Hollywood, with half a mile frontage on Ventura Boulevard and heading up to the top of the canyon, adjoining what is now Coldwater Canyon Boulevard.
This seems to be based on this 1919 newspaper article.
[By 1921] Membership already totaled more than 650, with a 700 limit. Only eight film members belonged, one of which was Wallace Reid.
Okay, that may explain the historical obscurity: even though the Hollywood Country Club had some movie star names attached to its founding, and it was up and running all through the 1920s, it did not catch on with movie folk, so it’s lost to historical obscurity. My guess is that the golf course architecture by an otherwise unknown designer named F.A. Peebles wasn’t very good and couldn’t compete with the Westside courses by George C. Thomas, like Bel-Air and Riviera. Most of the holes run straight uphill or downhill and the canyon on the left appears too narrow to get out of, apparently requiring golfers to walk back down.
The Hollywood Hills are a tilted block mountain range, with the south side along Wilshire Boulevard having gentler foothills ideal for golf, while the north side falls abruptly down into the flat San Fernando Valley. But the north slope of the hills has a lot of trees because it’s as blasted by midday sun as the south slope of the hills. They finally got the north slope of the Santa Monica mountains golf course right at Sherwood in Thousand Oaks in the 1980.