Though the news that wealthy movie stars, designers and CEOs are willing to pay thousands — and in some cases, millions — of dollars to manipulate the college admissions system shocked many Americans this week, many who work in the field of higher education are not surprised.

The massive bribery conspiracy took quid pro quo to a whole new level. Federal investigators in Boston say more than 30 parents paid the head of a foundation and a for-profit admissions consulting service to bribe test officials and athletic coaches. But wealthy families spending their money to get their kids into elite institutions is not new. Experts say this week's revelations have shed light on a system that is far from a fair meritocracy.

Andrew Flagel, vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, was not among those shocked by the investigation the FBI has dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues."

"It's become such an incredible frenzy. We all have known for so long that money plays such a ridiculous factor in the admissions process, and the assumption that so many families have," he said, is "that they are going to buy their way in one way or another."

Flagel worked for three decades in admissions and enrollment, most recently at Brandeis University. He said he has come to expect questions about donations when he attends cocktail parties.

"The question is, 'Well, what's the number? Isn't there a number out there?' And, you know, I'll try to pass it off with a joke or turn it into a different direction. But folks often really mean it. They think that this is in a straightforward quid pro quo," he said.

Last year's Harvard discrimination case exposed a special list of donors and alumni who were given an extra tip in the admissions process, and Flagel says it's not unusual for colleges to keep such a list.

"These are incredibly important people to the institution, whether they're major donors or contributors, whether they're alumni, or if you're at a state university, maybe they're important state legislators," he said. "So if you have folks who are important to them, you're going to take a serious look at those applications."

And the public has a right to be outraged about that, Flagel added, not just about the recently uncovered bribery scheme.

"I think it is fair to be outraged about a wide variety of factors in higher education. It is not a fair and equitable system," he said.

To gain an edge, rich parents involved in the massive scheme paid to guarantee admission to selective schools, including Yale, where the former women’s soccer coach allegedly took bribes.

Yale President Peter Salovey says he's working closely with the athletics and admissions departments to make any necessary changes to protect the university from fraud.

That may be easier said than done.

"You're talking about values that are getting compromised by parents to say, 'It doesn't really matter what you know, if you have enough money, you can get over,'" said Peter Roby, former athletic director at Northeastern University. He tells WGBH News he can't say for certain his coaches never accepted bribes.

"I don't know if cash is being exchanged. I just know that I had coaches that I thought were of high ethical standards," he said.

So far, 12 coaches have been indicted, but Roby says people are naive to think that more won't be identified.

Read the affidavit in support of criminal complaint:

As the story continues to unfold, Flagel suggests the public redirect its communal outrage toward low graduation rates for first generation and low-income students.

"Our completion rate is not where it should be, and we certainly have a group of colleges that have tremendously high completion rates," he said. "But the falloff once you get out of that those institutions is tremendous."

The difference, of course, is that those selective schools are filled with students with the greatest wealth — and the greatest support.