Tired of others gaming the system

Published 11:03 pm Friday, August 2, 2019

The Suffolk News-Herald takes pride in being a newspaper for Suffolk. We’re all Suffolk, all the time, and we’re dedicated to telling the story of this city that’s more than 90,000 strong.

That means that we only touch on national and international topics if there is a Suffolk connection. We use no wire service such as the Associated Press or Reuters. Our market research has told us that our readers who want to know are visiting other sources for that news and want us to stay local.

However, every once in a while, I’ll get a call from a reader wanting to know why they never see national or international news in our paper. One elderly reader recently said the News-Herald is his only news source, and as such he rarely understands our editorial cartoons, which come from a syndicated service and cover many national and international topics.


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This leads me to my column topic. The cartoon above addresses an article I read earlier in the week that astonished me — but maybe it shouldn’t have been all that surprising.

A ProPublica investigation found that suburban Chicago families — and, perhaps, many elsewhere in the nation — are pawning legal guardianship of their teenaged children off on relatives or friends so that the children won’t be required to report their parents’ income on student aid applications and, therefore, will be more likely to qualify.

This came on the heels of news earlier this year that many rich families literally bought their children’s way into prestigious universities. It’s hard to think about which of these schemes is more egregious.

The ProPublica story quoted a director of undergraduate admissions at an Illinois college who called it a “scam,” plain and simple.

What’s the harm? Well, besides teaching teens to game the system at an early age, the pots of money from which that financial aid is drawn aren’t bottomless. By taking financial aid they should not qualify for, some middle- and upper-class students are taking financial aid from those who truly need it.

In this scam, parents are actually giving up legal guardianship of their children to grandparents, cousins, even friends who aren’t related. They’re getting court orders saying that they no longer have custody of their kids — even though, often, the teens are still living at home. And then the kids are being declared financially independent of their well-off parents so that they appear destitute.

One has to wonder what would happen if tragedy struck in that teen’s life in the time frame between beginning that scheme and the teen turning 18. If there were, for example, a medical emergency that required someone else to make decisions, what if the new legal guardian had an opinion that differed from the parents and went on a power trip? They might be able to use their legal papers to inflict some real damage.

Everyone knows the cost of college is out of control, but that is no excuse for jumping through legal loopholes to get financial aid to which you wouldn’t otherwise be entitled. There are perfectly ethical ways to reduce the cost of college — getting grants, working hard to qualify for academic or athletic scholarships, choosing a cheaper school, choosing a school closer to home so you can live and eat at home, and doing your first two years at community college — or through Dual Enrollment while you’re still in high school — are all good ones.

Playing games with the system and potentially cheating students who truly needed financial aid are not.