Cypherium
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Cypherium

Cypherium | Blockchain tech for equal education opportunity

When it comes to college admissions, financial nepotism is nothing new. Nor, frankly, is prioritizing the wealthy. Throughout the histories of most private universities throughout America and Europe, patronage and financial solicitation have been a kind of lifeblood. It has been an open secret for the last two centuries that the rich have had the opportunity to buy their way into elite institutions. So why has the recent college admissions scandal provoked so much interest and ire?

Part of it certainly has to do with the sensationalism of the characters involved. Catching Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin in such a bold-faced ploy to receive special treatment reveals the ugly inner workings of celebrity. Influence is a system of secret pulleys and levers of power, to which only a select few gain access. But more generally, perhaps, this scandal has shown the artifice and fraudulence possible in so many systems that are supposedly “objective” or “meritocratic.”

The college admissions process is notoriously opaque. It maintains an intentional lack of transparency to protect both the students’ information, as well as the schools’ decision-making process. If made public, the schools would be forced to account for the inevitable fact that in most cases, their choices do not reflect any absolute criteria. These committees select students according to a number of variables that apply to both the individual and the class year, and to hold them accountable for every particular application would be impractical. However, this reasoning has been deployed often and inappropriately to favor the wealth and social standing of the privileged few, leaving us to wonder if this and other mechanisms of social engineering might be made more transparent — or, at very least, more equitable.

This most FBI case (“Operation Varsity Blues”) several egregious cases of outright forgery and fraud. Blockchain technology poses an immediate solution to this problem, as these are issues that result from the transference of data. For example, putting school data on-chain would allow high schools to collate and verify any data that they submit to other institutions. Instead of one corrupt high school coach or advisor communicating with a corrupt university counterpart, the schools’ data systems themselves could communicate, excluding the possibility of malicious and rogue actors. Teachers, mentors, coaches — any student advocate would have to place their support on an official school database, which would be authenticated and accepted by its administrators. These high school databases could then be made available to consortiums like the college board or shared directly with universities.

Unifying data dramatically reduces the risk of its manipulation, as the fewer times the data switches hands, the less opportunity there is to alter it. In this way, clarifying the college admissions process would akin to revamping a kind of corporate accountability, auditing and revitalizing the foundations of information storage. But of course, in another sense, universities are not at all like corporations, nor should they be.

Blockchains may also help us to have a wider social conversation about the necessity and limits of transparency. Because decentralized tech decouples security and privacy, which were once synonymous, it is now up for debate what can and should remain hidden from public view.

In a social system where institutions like universities and giant corporations enjoy immense influence, do they have any responsibility to make themselves publicly accountable while protecting individual students’ privacy? Should the public know if there are practical barriers to entry into the IVY league based on student-family incomes? Should schools make available the kinds of donations they receive and from what percentage of the applicant pool? Or the role that race and gender play in their decision making?

The advent of decentralized ledger technology allows data to become a matter of public record without being vulnerable to alteration. Perhaps, this may ultimately force us to reconsider the very concepts of transparency and privacy when it comes to public or public-facing institutions.

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