Rich people are cheating their kids into college, and it's ruining higher education, basic fairness and Hallmark Christmas movies for everybody.

The FBI busted 33 parents last week after they leveraged their wealth or C-list Hollywood celebrity to scam the college admissions system.

They lied on applications, hired impostors to take entrance exams, faked learning disabilities and bribed coaches to put their untalented kids on team rosters.

These people, who already had so much, stole an education from those who had less and deserved more.

Maybe one of their acceptance letters should have gone to a kid in Minnesota.

Maybe that spot at an elite school would have gone to a kid from a farm, who downloaded all her college application forms on a computer that crept along at dial-up speed. Or a kid who worked two jobs to cover community college tuition and was finally ready to transfer to a university to finish up his degree. Maybe a suburban kid who filled out all the paperwork for a six-figure student loan debt, trusting that a good education is worth the cost.

Instead, we're told an actress spent half a million dollars to get her uninterested kids into college, where they spent all their time vlogging makeup tips and dorm room decor to millions of followers on YouTube.

America is angrier than a Hallmark Channel executive who just realized she's going to need to cast between one and 20 new actresses to replace Lori Loughlin on various productions.

But here's a comforting thought, straight from the admissions department at the University of Minnesota: 99.999 percent of students who get into college get in the right way.

The idea of cheating your way into school baffled Fathiya Ahmed, a first-generation college senior majoring in family social science at the University of Minnesota.

"No, Aunt Becky," she groaned with a laugh, chiding Loughlin's squeaky-clean character from the sitcom "Fuller House."

"It is not fair to those who do the best they can, in terms of getting good grades and being a well-rounded applicant," she said. "Why not try your best and take the traditional route?"

During high school, Ahmed put in long hours, not just on classwork and extracurricular activities, but in the college and career center at Minneapolis Southwest High School, which helps students get into college and line up financial aid.

"That office was like my best friend," she said. "I was there at least once a week."

Sofia Caprini always knew she wanted to go to college.

"It just sounded like such an amazing experience — being able to study what you really wanted to," said Caprini, a first-generation college student from north Minneapolis.

A sophomore at the U, Caprini is studying kinesiology, with plans to become a physician assistant. She still remembers how it felt to get that college acceptance letter.

"It was an ecstatic moment," she said. If the FBI had looked into Caprini's path to college, they would have found a lot of supportive teachers and advisers at Patrick Henry High School and Minneapolis and parents who taught her that the easy way to do something isn't always the best way.

" 'Hard work will always help you get the outcome that you're looking for,' " she said they told her.

Mimi Tran immigrated to America when she was 2 years old and grew up in Apple Valley. Now she's a senior at the U who hopes to work at a university herself someday, encouraging other first-generation students to study science and technology.

"My degree means so much more to me than just a piece of paper," she said. "For me, it's so many things. It's my parents' belief in me."

Tran, who worked so hard to get where she is, read the reports of the college admissions scandal with rising fury.

"To a student like me and to all my friends that I know have persevered through so, so much more than I did — it's just unfair," Tran said. "These people don't value education, because they don't need to."

She hopes some good comes from all the outrage swirling around Operation Varsity Blues.

The parents who began with a head start and then cheated will be punished. But it would be nice if some of the discussion turned to leveling the college admission process to give everyone a fair start.

"Anger is not a bad thing," Tran said, "as long as you use the anger to fuel the right fight." 612-673-4008 • Twitter: @stribrooks