Jul 12, 2023

The Incoming War On Legacy Admissions In Universities

Legacy admissions help keep elite universities “elite.”
The Incoming War On Legacy Admissions In Universities
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

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By Briana Oser

What’s happening? The Supreme Court’s strike on affirmative action, or race-based college admissions, is sparking conversation about ending legacy admissions as well. Legacy admissions is the practice of universities favoring applicants who have parents or relatives who also attended their institution. Universities say the practice is used to nurture relationships with alumni, who are often school donors.

The difference: Affirmative action was race-based by nature and designed to benefit black applicants, hurting white and Asian applicants in the process. At Harvard, for example, 56.1 percent of African Americans in the top 10 percent of their class were admitted in 2021, while only 12.7 percent of Asian American students in the same decile were admitted. While legacy admissions are not race-based, 70 percent of legacy applicants at Harvard were white—which is why many Democrats are now targeting the practice.

It’s a class question: Legacy admissions help facilitate the flow of upper-class students into universities to maintain the status and wealth of these elite colleges. Wealthy white students—legacy picks—often get accepted over their less privileged counterparts simply because of their familial ties, not their academic merit. Legacy admissions allow Ivy League institutions—which receive federal aid—to deprioritize merit to preserve a steady stream of donations and grow their massive endowments.

Beyond the headlines: Many on both sides of the aisle reject the notion of legacy admissions, considering it another form of subverting what should be a system of meritocracy. If it is made illegal, however, colleges will likely find loopholes to continue the practice, as they are already doing now with affirmative action.

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