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Questions and Answers Related to the Federal Investigation of Admissions Fraud

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What information is available about the case and the UT employee charged?

In March 2019, federal authorities in Boston filed criminal charges against more than 30 parents, coaches and employees from eight universities across the country for alleged fraud and cheating in college admissions. One of the individuals charged with fraud was then-Texas Men’s Tennis Coach Michael Center.

Mr. Center is accused of taking nearly $100,000 in bribes to designate a UT applicant as a tennis player and offer the applicant a scholarship to pay for textbooks, even though he did not actually play competitive tennis, and then permitting the student to quit the tennis team and renounce the scholarship once enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin. The complaint alleges that by designating this applicant as a recruited athlete, Mr. Center made it easier for the applicant to be admitted.

Is UT Austin alleged to have participated in any fraudulent action? 

No. The indictment identifies and charges individuals, including 33 parents, staff members of The Key Worldwide Foundation, people who worked with the foundation, and individual coaches and staff members who are accused of perpetrating fraud in the college admissions process.

Based on the criminal complaint and current information, this appears to have been a singular event involving one UT employee who has since been terminated. The complaint does not allege wrongdoing by other UT employees or officials in Athletics, Admissions or any other UT office.

What has UT done in response?

The university was made aware of the charges against Mr. Center shortly before they were unsealed on March 12. He was placed on administrative leave that day and terminated by the university the following day, March 13. In a public statement, Athletics Director Chris Del Conte said, “Winning with integrity is paramount at The University of Texas, and it was a decision that had to be made.”

President Gregory L. Fenves has also directed the university’s vice president for legal affairs, Jim Davis, to conduct a thorough review of the 2015 incident and any matters related to it, including whether UT has the necessary rules and procedures in place to prevent violations in the future. This will include a review of the admissions processes for student-athletes.

This process has already begun and will be completed expeditiously. Based on the findings, the university will determine what other actions may be needed.

Do these charges reflect UT’s admissions policies – and what are those policies?

No. This incident does not reflect UT Austin’s admissions policies or practices.

Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of the university. The university has a thorough admissions process. In accordance with state law, 90 percent of offers for freshman admission go to graduates of Texas high schools. Within this group, 75 percent of the class is filled automatically with students who graduated near the top of their classes in Texas public high schools. The remaining students are admitted after a holistic review of their academic and personal achievements within the context of their educational environment and the resources available to them. As at most U.S. universities, special talents in the arts, music, athletics and other areas are given consideration based on merit for students planning to pursue these areas while in college.

The holistic review process is comprehensive and considers all of the required components of a student’s application file; therefore, there is no single factor in the admissions review process that is the deciding factor. In the cases of student-athletes, the holistic review process considers the evaluation of talent for a prospective student-athlete via the recommendation of coaches in the sport.

Like students and families across the country as well as other universities, UT is outraged by the fraudulent actions alleged in the investigation. University staff members spend countless hours each year carefully and consistently reviewing applications in line with our stated admissions process and state laws; integrity is the expected standard from all involved, both internally and externally. The actions alleged by federal prosecutors against this one UT employee do not reflect the university’s admissions process.

What action is taken against a student when fraudulent information is suspected of having been included in his or her admissions materials?

Under university policy, if a student is alleged to have included fraudulent information in an admissions application, a careful review is conducted to determine whether that occurred. At The University of Texas at Austin, applicants certify the accuracy of the applicant information. A signed applicant certification is required to complete the application for admission. In part, the language that applicants sign reads, “I certify that the information I have provided is complete and correct, and I understand that the submission of false information is grounds for rejection of my application, withdrawal of any offer of acceptance, cancellation of enrollment and/or appropriate disciplinary action.”

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records and prohibits the university from discussing any individual student’s academic standing or any investigations. The university is not legally permitted to reveal the identity of the student who is referenced in the criminal charges or discuss any actions or decisions involving the student.

Is UT working with the federal investigators?

Yes. University officials are cooperating fully with federal investigators and will share relevant information collected during the internal review with them.

Was UT contacted by the Department of Education about a preliminary investigation?

Yes, the university received a letter from the Department of Education about a preliminary investigation and is working with the department to respond to their questions regarding admissions while we conduct our own internal review. Our internal review, as mentioned above, is ongoing.

How much money is involved with these charges?

The federal complaint alleges that Mr. Center accepted nearly $100,000, including a $60,000 cash payment.

Has the university received any donations associated with this fraud case?

The nonprofit group at the heart of the alleged national scheme, The Key Worldwide Foundation, has claimed in IRS filings that it contributed more than $500,000 to Texas Athletics in 2015 and 2016. However, the university has no record of such donations or similar donation amounts, though it does have a record of a $15,000 gift from The Key Worldwide Foundation in 2015 sent to “Texas Athletics, Attn: Michael Center.” The complaint also indicates that an employee of The Key Worldwide Foundation purchased a cashier’s check for $25,000, payable to “Texas Athletics,” using the organization’s funds. If law enforcement authorities or the university determines that there are other gifts related to this fraud, they would be included in the internal review.

The national controversy has raised concerns that the college admissions process limits access to students with fewer resources or means. How does UT provide access for those students?

The University of Texas at Austin is committed to continuing to be an institution that serves as an engine of upward mobility. The state’s automatic admissions law guarantees admission to those who finish near the top of their public high school classes in Texas so that admission access is not limited by resources or opportunity. Through our holistic admissions process, UT seeks to admit a student body that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity. That includes admitting students from a wide range of economic backgrounds. The university’s holistic review process considers each student’s academic and other achievements – within the context of the applicant’s school and personal environment – to ensure an individualized review that is measured against the resources available to the student. Consideration of an applicant’s family attendance at UT is prohibited by state law and therefore not included as part of the holistic review.

Consistently, more than 20 percent of the university’s enrolled undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college. During the past seven years, the university has demonstrated significant improvements in four-year graduation rates of low-income and first-generation students. In recent years, the university has also made financial aid investments in increasing access for low- and middle-income students, and last year, the university introduced a new financial aid program to provide four years of guaranteed financial aid for low- and middle-income students with financial need.