"It's an argument that's made a lot about these sorts of things: If I, as an elite parent, make some investments, I game the system and it gets my kid in, it's not as if I'm denying a poor Hispanic kid from Texas — I'm denying my neighbor, another white affluent kind of kid." he tells CNBC Make It. "But if something's unfair, it's unfair even if it only happens once and even if it only affects one person. And it's unfair even if it kicks off somebody else who may not be disadvantaged. I think that the long-run effects of all this is almost certainly to privilege those who have even more money."
Reeves, who is the author of "Dream Hoarders," says arguments like Lakhani's rationalize unethical behavior.
"I think that's a really terrible defense to just say, 'Yes, it's unfair, but it's just affecting other wealthy people,'" he says. "What it does is it normalizes the idea that you can game the system or buy by the system."
Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor at Temple University, author of "Paying the Price " and founder of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice tells CNBC Make It says that this kind of arms race among elite students and their families has a negative impact on students who are unable to afford college coaching services.
"The very nature of that competition where the wealthy are sort of one-upping each other, to have the more perfect college application, leaves the others applicants not looking as good," she says.
"The middle class is really hurt here, because enrolling them does virtually nothing for these schools. They neither get points for having low-income students — because these middle class people don't get Pell [Grants] — nor did they get the advantages of [enrolling wealthy students.] If they have these tutors, and they take the SAT a number of times, and they visit all these campuses and try to get the perfect interviews, these families can decimate their savings."
Both Reeves and Goldrick-Rab recommend that colleges consider a lottery system that takes factors like gender and income into consideration, in order to build admissions systems that are less confusing and more fair.
"Complexity is the friend of the upper class," says Reeves. "Simplicity is the friend of the middle class and the working class, who are currently having to navigate an unbelievably complex system that is like a Byzantine bureaucracy."
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