The Ivy Coach Daily

June 20, 2012

College Legacy Admissions

There’s a terrific article today in “The Wall Street Journal” about college legacy admissions. The article presents differing opinions on whether or not legacy admission is fair and if the practice should continue. We’ve written about legacy admission quite a bit in the past and we’ve discussed Richard Kahlenberg’s point that college legacy admission is actually a violation of tax law (something we don’t dispute). If you’re curious about how legacy admission could be a violation of tax law, Mr. Kahlenberg, the person arguing against the practice of legacy admission in “The Wall Street Journal,” asserts that alumni donate money to their alma maters. These donations are a tax write-off for which they’re supposed to receive nothing in return. And yet alumni who give money to their alma maters do get something in return — their children stand a better shot of getting in. This, in Mr. Kahlenberg’s opinion is a clear violation of the U.S. Tax Code.

In the article, the person supporting the practice of legacy admissions, Joel Trachtenberg, believes that legacy admission isn’t a form of discrimination against minorities. He is of the opinion that legacy admission is no longer a practice that helps “rich white kids” improve their odds of admission. And why’s that? He asserts that because colleges have had diverse student bodies for years now, legacy admission helps African American legacies and Asian American legacies just as it helps Caucasian legacies.

Do we at Ivy Coach agree with that, you ask? Certainly this will be a trend in the future but, for now, legacy admission does indeed favor the “rich white kid.” Twenty five years ago, around the time when parents whose children are currently applying to college themselves graduated from universities, college campuses weren’t nearly as diverse as they are now. Twenty five years ago was 1987. Much has changed in the world of college admissions since 1987. So we happen to disagree with Mr. Trachtenberg’s current assessment of legacy admission no longer favoring the “rich white kid.” That will likely be the case in the future. But that’s not the case right now.

But we do agree with Mr. Trachtenberg’s point that legacy admission helps to foster a sense of community, a sense of belonging to a school that values tradition. As Mr. Trachtenberg writes, “They help bridge an institution’s past and present. They represent tradition and underscore the history of an institution and modestly acknowledge what the present owes to the founders.”

And how does Mr. Kahlenberg respond aside from citing how legacy admission is a violation of tax law? He asserts that 75% of Americans do not favor legacy admission. He asserts that legacy admission is not a factor that “breaks a tie.” In fact, legacy admission is the equivalent of boosting an applicant’s SAT score by 160 points. Mr. Kahlenberg believes that legacy admission is discrimination based upon ancestry. In fact, Mr. Kahlenberg writes, “Public and private universities receive enormous public subsidies because institutions of higher education are supposed to serve the public interest. There is broad consensus among Americans, however, that legacy preferences contravene the public interest by undercutting merit and discriminating based on lineage.”

What do you think? Which side do you agree with? Are you a supporter or an opponent of college legacy admissions? Let us know your thoughts by posting below!

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