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SWFL Admissions Professionals React to College Cheating Scandal

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Fifty people have been indicted following a college admissions scandal, involving universities across the country. Here in Southwest Florida, professionals from both sides of the admissions process are speaking out.

“I’m never surprised that people will do things to get into tough universities," Marc Laviolette said. "I was a little surprised at the scope of this and the avenue of using, faking athletic students. I was surprised at that but not that something like this was going on.”

Laviolette is the admissions director at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The school had no involvement in the high-profile scam, but even at the less-known university, Laviolette recalls a time someone tried.

“I’ve been here 15 years, and I can recall only one instance where somebody in my office offered some money to get their student admitted. I think I had already denied the student," Laviolette said. "One time in 15 years.”

Laviolette says, the side door created by manipulating athletic records isn’t wide open at FGCU, as it may be at a private institution. Florida’s public university system looks at prospective student-athletes as it does any prospective student. So, being good at a sport doesn’t get you a pass when it comes to test scores and GPA requirements.

Still, admissions consultants can be used for state schools.

“A lot of retired or ex admissions professionals will go into the consulting business," Laviolette said. "So, families will pay them to help them navigate the admissions process because, in some cases, it can be a little complicated.”

Ashley McNaughton is one such admissions consultant, based out of Estero. She got her start teaching English in Europe where she realized, through helping her students through the admissions process, that she kind of had a knack for it. So, she went back to school and received her counselor certification at UCLA.

Now, her mornings begin with a quick scan of her emails.

“And, then, I get in touch with my students to follow up on how their test prep’s going, how their essays are going, if they’ve done any campus visits, what’s going on, where they are in the process," McNaughton said.

Right now, McNaughton has 10 students she’s working with. She likes to keep it under 20, so she can give each student as much time with her as they need.

Typically, parents reach out at the SAT age — around 16 or so — and McNaughton works with them up through their high school graduation.

When her students get into their top picks, McNaughton says, it feels amazing.

"I mean, most of my kids, I work with them for two years," she said. "So, it’s a long process, and I really get to see them grow, kind of take ownership of their process. And, then, to see them get in after all their hard work is great.”

For a typical two-year consulting job, McNaughton’s prices range from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on what services parents and students are looking for.

But, she says, those services never include reaching out to university admissions departments on behalf of a student — or worse, as was seen in the recent college cheating scandal.

“I, and all of my colleagues that I know of, we work really hard to maintain an ethical, honest process with our students and teach them to own their process," McNaughton said. "So, to hear that somebody, you know, kind of did completely the opposite and kind of broke the system is really disappointing."

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.