Report: Illinois Parents Give Up Child Custody for College Cash

Parents go to great lengths to when it comes to getting their children into college. Now, a ProPublica Illinois investigation has discovered that some suburban parents are giving up custody of their kids in order to help them get college financial aid. But the scheme doesn’t appear to break any laws.

ProPublica Illinois reporters Jodi Cohen and Melissa Sanchez found several cases in which parents, including some doctors and lawyers, had given up legal guardianship of their high schoolers to relatives or friends. 

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College applicants who can claim financial independence from their parents gain access to federal, state and university financial aid that may otherwise be unavailable because of their parents’ income levels.

According to the report, more than 40 guardianship cases were filed between January 2018 and June 2019 in Lake County – ranked as Illinois’ second most wealthy county based on the 2010 census.

Cohen and Sanchez found that nearly all of the cases were handled by two north suburban law firms: the Rogers Law Group in Deerfield and the Kabbe Law Group in Naperville.

Attorney Mari Berlin of the Kabbe Law Group told ProPublica Illinois that several of these cases involve parents who would have difficulty paying for college tuition even though their salaries are too high to qualify for financial aid.

“It’s a solution they have been able to find as college costs go up and they are unable to pay,” Berlin told ProPublica Illinois. “It is in the best interest of the minor, which is the statute’s purpose.”

Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, feels differently.

“It’s a scam,” Borst told ProPublica Illinois. “Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for. They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.”

Cohen joins us to discuss the investigation.

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