David Brooks recently wrote an opinion piece for “The New York Times” entitled “How We Are Ruining America” that speaks to how upper-middle-class and affluent families so often have a leg up in the college admissions process. As Brooks writes, “Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs. It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege, and then with their scholarship policies they salve their consciences by offering teeny step ladders for everybody else.”
We don’t happen to disagree with a word of what David Brooks wrote in this instance. Of course upper-middle-class and affluent parents can offer their children certain advantages that middle-class and low-income parents simply cannot. Tell us something we don’t know, Ivy Coach. This is how the world spins on its axis. But there is one concrete thing that colleges can do to try — in a small but meaningful way — to at least demonstrate that they care to create greater parity. And that’s to eliminate legacy admission.
As Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation has argued for years — and as we at Ivy Coach have echoed for years — legacy admission seems to be a violation of law. Of tax law that is. After all, the wealthy donate money to universities. These donations are tax-deductible write-offs. In return for making tax-deductible donations, one is not supposed to receive anything in return. Hence the term ‘donation.’ And yet donors do receive something tangible in return for their tax-deductible donations. Their children and grandchildren are categorized not only as legacies, the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of alumni. They’re categorized as development cases, the progeny of major donors.
The elimination of legacy admissions would not only be a symbolic gesture. Legacy admits fill up a tangible percentage of each and every admitted class at highly selective colleges across America. Some of these students are deserving of admission. But some are not and for every slot in the class filled by a legacy student, it takes one more slot away from low-income families.