An End to a Legacy?

Legacy Admissions May Be On the Decline

It’s one of those uncomfortable little secrets that most college admission offices try to keep quiet or ignore. In fact, when asked directly of its impact, college admission officers typically downplay or marginalize its use. Still, college admission due to legacy –– based not on skill or merit, but on lineage when a sibling or parent previously attended the school –– has existed since the birth of higher education.

Students admitted because of legacy can be found at virtually every university, but the issue is most contentious in the context of those elite universities where admission is both highly sought after and highly elusive. In his book, The Price of Admission, Daniel Bloomberg asserts that the legacy admission advantage is most significant at the Ivy League schools, and that it has increased in recent years. Bloomberg claims that legacy applicants to Princeton in 2009 were admitted at 4.5 times the rate of other applicants, up from 17 years earlier when legacy applicants were admitted at only 2.8 times the rate of others, according to Jacques Steinberg’s summary in The New York Times.

A frequent justification is that universities rely on legacy admissions to bolster fund-raising, which ensures the financial vitality of the university as well as its ability to provided need-based financial assistance to others. This claim has been refuted by Richard Kahlenberg, editor of Affirmative Action for the Rich, the newly published collection of research articles on the topic. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, Kahlenberg asserts that the financial justification is one of several myths on the topic that empirical data does not support.

As college admission decisions become more closely scrutinized by families of students seeking admission at top universities, the end of legacy admissions may be in sight. At its core, providing an admission benefit to an applicant solely because a parent or sibling attended is discriminatory; from a legal perspective, it runs counter to the equal rights promised by the U.S. Constitution. As the veil of secrecy lifts and college admission procedures become more transparent, admission due to legacy should fall into antiquity.

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