Colleges checking applications for liars

Can it be? Good news out of academia? (subscription required) I think so:

There’s a new age of vigilance in academia. Spooked by incidents including guidance-counselor fraud in Los Angeles, blatant plagiarism at MIT and campus crime in North Carolina, colleges and graduate schools are shoring up their admissions process. In an era when applicants seek an edge with $500-an-hour “admissions consultants” and online essay-editing services, schools are using their own new methods to vet prospective students. Much like corporations that have been burned by CEO résumé scandals, universities are tapping into the burgeoning background-check industry to verify what’s written — or not — on applications.

The University of California system, which enrolls more than 30,000 college freshmen each year, now conducts random spot checks, asking about 10% of applicants to verify activities, grades or facts from personal essays. Last year, five Division I athletic programs began using a law firm to conduct background checks on high-school recruits. And this school year, Harvard’s undergraduate admissions staff added a former professional background checker.

Character and honesty aren’t partisan issues, though I might be inclined to point a few fingers leftward at colleges’ drift away from teaching character and the good life toward relativism. Even if that is the case, these schools that now demand accountability for the things you write aren’t any more conservative than they were a few years ago. Although on the third hand, the trend seems to be led by business schools, who understand the market needs future CEOs to be people it can trust.

Whatever the reason, this is long overdue. Plagiarism and puffery are rampant among college students today, and I believe it’s worse than ever before because the internet has propelled students’ capacity to cheat far ahead of colleges’ ability or willingness to detect them. For modern students, time is money…and the cheaters prosper by spending less time in their books and more time building up their resumes, sleeping, and dating all the cute guys and girls. Not only do they prosper unjustly, they tempt the solid students to join them.

Homing in on the application details is a good start. If someone lies on their application, there’s no reason to think they’ll get any better once they start taking classes. It also impresses students right off the bat that dishonesty won’t be tolerated. I don’t know what caused this backlash against plagiarism, but I hope it signals a new commitment to teach our future leaders what “integrity” means and why it’s important.

Oh, fine, one quick bit of political sniping, on the pressures exerted by affirmative action:

The most troubling cases, she says, involve students who feel they’re at a disadvantage because they’re not lying. Last year, a white client [of an independent guidance counselor] in Miami was distraught because her friends were falsely identifying themselves as Hispanic. “She asked me, with a straight face, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ” says Ms. Norman, a former admissions officer at Barnard College.

Exit question: doesn’t Yale wish it had this set up to check out Sexy Lexy Vayner?