Legacy Applicants Have Admissions Advantage

LOL! I bestow upon this study the infamous DUH! of the Century Award. You gotta be kidding me.

A new study of 30 highly selective colleges conducted by a Harvard University researcher found that legacy applicants–students who have a family connection at a school–have a significant advantage in admission.

I wonder how many taxpayer dollars funded this brainstorm.

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Here’s the hilariously obvious scoop, compiled by Alexander Gong:

Study Shows Legacy Students Have Advantage In College Admissions

A new study of 30 highly selective colleges conducted by a Harvard University researcher found that legacy applicants–students who have a family connection at a school–have a significant advantage in admission.

The study, led by Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, revealed that applicants to a parent’s alma mater had, on average, seven times the odds of admission of nonlegacy applicants, The New York Times reported. By comparison, students whose parents did graduate work there or who had a grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle who attended the school were only twice as likely to be admitted.

“It’s fundamentally unfair because it’s a preference that advantages the already advantaged,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. “It has nothing to do with the individual merit of the applicant.”

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, legacy applicants, all other things being equal, had a 23.3 percentage point increase in their probability of admission compared to nonlegacy applicants. Primary legacies, applicants with a parent who attended the college as an undergraduate, had a staggering 45.1 percentage point advantage. In other words, if a nonlegacy applicant faced a 15 percent chance of admission, a primary legacy applicant with identical credentials would have a 60 percent chance of getting in.

Hurwitz says legacy or nonlegacy status matters a lot to individual applicants; however, because applicant pools are so large, legacy admits do not greatly decrease the chance that other students will get into the college of their choice. Of more than 290,000 applications he examined, only about 6 percent had legacy status.

In addition, Hurwitz discovered that legacy students, on average, had slightly higher SAT scores than nonlegacy students.

Dean of Undergraduate Admission at Stanford University Richard Shaw, on the other hand, emphasizes that legacy status does not guarantee that an applicant will be admitted to an elite school, The Stanford Daily noted.

“The reality of this is that the majority of students that are legacies do not get in,” Shaw said. But legacy students are very strong candidates, he said.

“In looking at our quantitative measures, our legacy enrollees or admits tend to be stronger than the median of the admitted class,” Shaw said. “It shatters another perception that unqualified or less qualified students are getting into Stanford because they are sons or daughters of parents who have come before them.”

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Public sentiment isn’t all that positive. Check the letters to the New York Times concerning legacy admissions. Here’s one opinion:

Legacy preferences are a red herring because elite universities use them only when it serves their institutional interests. They will be used, for example, to help the children of wealthy alumni, who are then expected to increase their annual contributions to their alma mater. But will they be used to help the children of poor or noncontributing alumni?

The only guiding principle behind the admissions policies of the elite universities is that these policies must allow them to accept — and to reject — whomever they desire. Therefore, until these universities are required to admit students solely on the basis of merit or to use affirmative action policies only to help truly disadvantaged applicants, outlawing legacy preferences by itself will change nothing.

Those with the cash and the connections will always have the advantage.

(The writer is part of a group of lawyers planning to bring a test case against legacy preferences.)

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I suppose if I were a parent whose son or daughter wanted to attend my alma mater, I would be all for legacy admissions. Maybe I would have upped my giving in the past just to pave the way a bit. However, I completely agree with the above-cited Times letter writer when he  says: Legacy preferences are a red herring because elite universities use them only when it serves their institutional interests.

So what will happen with legacy admissions? Probably nothing, unless the courts rule against it, which I think is unlikely. It’s higher ed’s ball and bat, folks. If you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game. Legacy will always mean a leg up.

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