Dismantling Legacy Admission

Legacy Admission, Legacy Status in Admission, Legacy and College Admissions

Columbia University, like just about all highly selective colleges, admits legacy applicants at higher rates than they do non-legacies.

As a followup to a piece in “The Columbia Spectator” on legacy admission that we opined about a few weeks ago, we figured we’d share with our readers a response piece to the initial op-ed published in Columbia’s newspaper. This latest op-ed, authored by Colin Howard, is entitled “Dismantle the legacy system” and it is a scathing rebuke of the practice of legacy admission. And Colin Howard has gotten it right.

As Howard writes, “The legacy system is an outdated scheme maintaining socioeconomic homogeneity in ‘elite’ higher education. There are absolutely other ways we can work to heterogenize Columbia, especially in student recruitment. However, it is an enormous hypocrisy that legacy preference (which, by the way, is of questionable origin) continues to exist in the 21st century, and it must be abolished as a symbolic first step demonstrating our commitment to socioeconomic diversity. The Columbia community has a history of vaunting equitable access to higher education—now all we need is the momentum for this next leap forward.” Howard cites data that unquestionably demonstrates the clear advantage legacy applicants have over non-legacy applicants in the admissions process not only at Columbia University but at just about all highly selective colleges. And he challenges how these same schools could preach about the importance of socioeconomic diversity while at the same time admitting legacy candidates.

The legacy admission system might not be fair. But it’s not like it’s illegal. Or is it, Uncle Sam?

We have been shining a lantern on and echoing an argument made by Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, for years at this point and that argument is that legacy admission is not only hypocritical on the part of these institutions…it’s possibly a violation of tax law. After all, we’re in the height of tax season (they’re due in a few days for those procrastinators). And when you make tax-deductible donations to an institution like your alma mater, you’re not supposed to receive anything in return for such generosity. That’s why our government gives such donors a tax write-off. But these donors are getting something in return. Their children are getting in at much higher rates than are non-legacy applicants. Richard Kahlenberg has a very valid point.

Agree? Disagree? We’re curious to hear from our readers so post a Comment below and we’ll be sure to write back.


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