Common admissions — the practice of a college giving priority to the children of its alumni — is facing strong criticism in a new report that documents the extent of the practice and calls for legislation and other policies to limit or even eliminate it.
The new report, prepared by Education Reform Now (ERN) with financial support from the Kresge Foundation, is part of ERNThe future of fair admissions series written in connection with Monday’s Supreme Court hearing on two cases challenging the legality of race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
The use of inherited preferences is widespread, but is decreasing
The practice of giving admissions preference to legacy applicants has a long history, dating back to the 1920s, when some colleges began using the practice as a backroom strategy to limit the number of Jewish, minority, and immigrant students by giving preference to the children of former students, who were rarely Jewish. blacks or immigrants.
The current range of probate acceptances is difficult to pinpoint. As of 2020 The Wall Street Journal According to the report, 56% of the nation’s top 250 institutions considered heritage in their admissions process. This is down from 63% in 2004.
A 2018 survey of US college admissions officers found that 42% of admissions officers at private schools admitted that heritage status was a factor in admissions decisions. At public colleges, the corresponding figure was only 6%.
Based on data from the Common Data Set, the ERN report states that 787 colleges and universities provided some type of legacy preference in 2020, which equates to about half of the four-year institutions that completed the Common Data Set. However, the practice is much more common among colleges described as highly selective in admission rates; 80% of the 64 four-year colleges and universities that accept less than 25% of applicants report giving preference to children of former students.
According to the ERN report, the use of legacy preferences is much more common among private colleges, especially those located in the northeastern United States. On the other hand, only 24% of public four-year institutions give admissions preference to relatives of alumni.
While 19 states have no public universities or colleges that provide senior preference, many leading public universities continue to use this practice. Examples include the University of Oklahoma, Penn State University, the University of Virginia, the University of Alabama, and the University of North Carolina.
Objections to the acceptance of inheritance
For years, the preference for heritage has been sharply criticized by higher education insiders and the general public, as well as Democrats and Republicans alike. However, opposition to this practice has recently gained new momentum for at least four reasons.
1. The recent University of the Blues admissions cheating scandal has once again drawn attention to the scale of the practice and the extent to which unscrupulous actors are willing to use it for their own personal gain.
2. Several prominent institutions, including Texas A&M University, Purdue University, California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, and Amherst College, have taken steps to end the use of legacy preferences and bring more scrutiny to those schools that cling to it. . The ERN report states that at least 102 colleges and universities that once considered legacy status in their admissions process have stopped doing so since 2015.
3. The considerable size of the advantage transferred to legacies became more widely known. The “tip” that legacy applicants receive is not insignificant, although it is difficult to quantify because most schools keep this information from public view. These tips are usually aimed at candidates who, as children of elite graduates, already enjoy many economic and educational advantages. That’s like giving Tack Fall, the 7’6”, tallest player in the NBA, elevator shoes.
A 2007 study of 30 highly selective colleges found that legacy applicants were three times more likely to be accepted than equally qualified non-legacy applicants. Harvard’s legacy applicants are about six times more likely to be accepted than non-legacy and non-athlete applicants. In his new book Ivy, Evan Mandery reports that elite colleges typically reserve between 10 and 25% of their admissions for senior applicants.
The percentage of freshmen admitted to multiple colleges using the old route exceeds the percentage of enrolled freshmen who are black, ERN reports. For example, at Notre Dame, 21% of freshmen in the class of 2020 were legacies, 4% black. At Harvard, 14% of the entering class were legacies, twice the percentage of black freshmen at 7%. Similar ratios were found at Stanford University, the University of North Carolina and Cornell.
Finally, the long-awaited and closely watched legal challenges brought by Students for Fair Admissions to affirmative action admissions practices at Harvard and the University of North Carolina have brought greater scrutiny to legacy admissions.
If, as many legal experts expect, the Supreme Court decides to ban students’ race from being considered in university admissions, it will likely have ramifications for bequests that overwhelmingly favor white students. If colleges are required to implement race-neutral admissions policies, they may also be forced to abandon practices — such as legacy preferences — that discriminate against students from underrepresented minority groups.
Efforts to limit the practice
Colleges that prioritize legacy typically offer two justifications for this practice. First, they claim that they will collect more private donations from former students if they give their children a leg up. In turn, these funds can be used to help more lower-income students afford to attend. Think of it as Ivory Tower flow.
Second, they argue that students with college-educated parents are more likely to persist and ultimately complete an undergraduate degree than those students whose parents did not attend college. This is the senior editor’s Darwinian formula – survival of the fittest.
These justifications are becoming increasingly difficult to swallow, and some countries are taking steps to limit or eliminate the practice. California passed a law requiring colleges to report to the government if they have a legacy admissions policy. Colorado prohibits admission to its public colleges and universities.
A bill was introduced in New York this year that would ban the use of legacy preferences at both public and private universities. Connecticut lawmakers were considering a similar bill that was opposed by many of the state’s colleges and universities.
At the federal level, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) presented Act on Fair Admission of Students to Higher Education Institutions, which would prohibit higher education institutions participating in federal student aid programs – which includes most colleges – from giving preferential treatment in admissions to dropouts or children of donors.
Beyond the appearance of fundamental unfairness, the practice of lagging admissions to highly selective American colleges is problematic because most of these schools admit so few qualified students to begin with. It is difficult to justify further limiting the scope of their admissions by giving priority to the children of former students, while at the same time these institutions claim to be committed to notions of merit, equality and social mobility.
The ERN report recommends four other policies that would reduce, if not eliminate, legacy admissions preferences.
1. The US Department of Education should collect data from institutions as part of its IPEDS reporting that would determine whether and to what extent a college is using legacy admissions.
2. Conditions Title IV federal financial aid revenues by eliminating legacy preferences by enacting legislation similar to Act on Fair Admission of Students to Higher Education Institutions.
3. State legislatures could take a similar route and make a portion of state appropriations for operations and/or financial assistance conditional on the elimination of legacy preferences.
4. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 imposes a 1.4 percent tax on university income for those universities with 500 or more students and endowment funds above $500,000 per student. According to the ERN report, 39 of the 44 universities and colleges that met the endowment tax threshold in fiscal year 2021 preferred inheritance. Congress could impose an additional tax on those institutions subject to the endowment tax if they provide a bequest preference and reduce the tax on those that do not.
The college’s decision to eliminate legacy enrollment may anger some former students. It may occasionally even lead some to withhold a donation or dissuade their children from applying, although there is very little evidence of such effects. Those universities that abandoned affirmative action for children of alumni did not suffer. Neither their enrollment nor their donations decreased. They did the right thing. More colleges need to follow their lead and end a practice that is increasingly recognized as doing far more harm than good.