July 18, 2023

Legacy Admissions

A civil rights group is challenging legacy admissions at Harvard University, saying the practice discriminates against students of color by giving an unfair boost to the mostly white children of alumni… The civil rights complaint was filed [in early July] by Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston.” AP News

Here’s our recent coverage of the affirmative action case at the Supreme Court. The Flip Side

All sides criticize legacy admissions and argue that they should be abandoned:

“Elite colleges have long framed themselves as liberal guardians of the interests of students of color against a conservative Supreme Court. As a group of Harvard deans wrote after the ruling, ‘Harvard must always be a place of opportunity, a place whose doors remain open to those to whom they had long been closed.’ Yet Harvard is one of 38 American colleges where more students come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution than the bottom 60 percent…

“Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that Harvard could have achieved its current level of racial diversity by giving socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants half the boost it offers to so-called ALDC students, comprising athletes (the ‘A’), the children of alumni (also known as ‘legacies,’ the ‘L’), the children of donors (‘D’), and the children of faculty and staff (the ‘C’)… Through a sleight of hand, elite colleges have kept the focus on the small amount of good they do as a deflection from the overwhelming advantages that they offer to affluent whites. That’s about to end.”
Evan Mandery, Politico

The Harvard v. Students for Fair Admissions case brought attention to the fact that between 2010 and 2015, the admission rate for legacy applicants at Harvard was higher than 33 percent, compared to 6 percent for non-legacies. More than 20 percent of white students admitted to Harvard during that period had legacy status… Legacy admissions developed in the 1920s to discriminate against Jewish and Catholic applicants and favor Anglo-Protestant dominance. A century later, it still reinforces privilege.”
Fabiola Cineas, Vox

“As Harvard conceded, it’s all about money. Not only do legacy preferences boost donations; children of alumni typically don’t require financial aid. Most elite colleges boast that they are ‘need-blind,’ meaning they don’t consider whether a student will require financial aid during the admissions process. But Harvard knows most legacies will pay its full $79,450 price tag. Only about a quarter of children of alumni and donors who were admitted to Harvard between 2010-15 received any financial aid from the college vs. nearly 80% of other admitted students…

“Harvard students pay close to $80,000 a year not for an education—which they could get at a public college for a quarter of the price—but for the high-powered connections they’ll make and the doors their degree will open afterward. Legacies are part of its business proposition: They provide networking opportunities students won’t get at a state school.”
Allysia Finley, Wall Street Journal

“College officials like to contend that these wealth-based admissions practices are needed to generate resources and provide aid for needy students. If so, colleges should open their financial books and prove it. Until then, it's hard to give much credence to such protests when they're proffered by college leaders who sell access while squatting on multibillion-dollar endowments…

“[Furthermore] As long as there's no explicit quid pro quo agreement between family and university (and these things are done via nods and winks), the IRS turns a blind eye to wealthy families claiming the charitable-giving deduction for the ‘gifts’ that lead to their children's admission… If a donor earns seven figures a year and lives in California, taxpayers can wind up subsidizing more than 52 cents of every dollar used to buy his child's way into college…

“We should press college officials to mean what they say about opportunity and equity, and to spend less time strong-arming wealthy donors. But at a bare minimum, we should get taxpayers out of the business of subsidizing campus shakedown artists.”
Frederick M. Hess, National Affairs

“The usual rationale for legacy preferences is that they increase alumni donations to colleges. This might be a defensible argument for profit-making institutions whose primary goal is to make money for owners and investors. But most universities are public or non-profit institutions that—at least in principle—are supposed to prioritize other objectives, such as promoting education and research. Legacy preferences are pretty obviously inimical to those goals

“I know many elite college alumni from my own generation (the one now in its peak giving years). Very few support legacy preferences, and fewer still (if any) are likely to reduce their giving if their alma mater drops that policy. Polls indicate 75% of Americans oppose legacy preferences, a figure comparable to the level of opposition to racial preferences. I doubt the opposition among elite-college graduates is significantly lower than that in the general public.”
Ilya Somin, Volokh Conspiracy

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