There is a piece on the opinion pages of “The New York Times” entitled “End College Legacy Preferences” written by Evan J. Mandery that we wanted to discuss. In his editorial, Mandery argues that there is so much attention paid by the courts to the practice of Affirmative Action but Affirmative Action isn’t nearly as dangerous and misguided as the practice of legacy admission at our nation’s most elite universities. As stated in his editorial and as cited on the pages of our college admissions blog previously, “Reviewing admission data from 30 top colleges in the Economics of Education Review, the researcher Michael Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. A Princeton team found the advantage to be worth the equivalent of 160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT, nearly as much as being a star athlete or African-American or Hispanic.” That is a hugely significant advantage indeed in highly selective college admissions.
Mandery even cites the legacy admission statistic at his alma mater, Harvard, which is 30% (or approximately five times the regular admission rate). If the objective of Affirmative Action is to balance things out, it would seem that legacy admission does just the opposite. Mandery argues this and we don’t disagree with it. Legacy admission seems antithetical to the very mission of many of our nation’s most elite universities. We happen to agree with almost everything that Mandery writes, with exception to one point. He writes, “Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and Columbia collectively have endowments of about $100 billion. They have the means to end this abhorrent practice with a stroke of a pen and the financial resources to endure whatever uncertainty ensues.” Highly selective colleges don’t want to dip into their endowments. But, more importantly, let’s not forget where the endowment comes from. Much of it comes from alumni donors, many of whom would stop donating as much — or stop donating entirely — if the practice of legacy admission was done away with with one stroke of the pen.
We have argued in the past — as have others — that legacy admission is a violation of tax law. Alumni donors are receiving tax breaks for donating to their alma maters and, for that, they’re not supposed to be receiving anything in return. And yet they are because their children have statistically better odds — significantly better odds — of getting in. We believe that arguing a case based on tax law against the highly selective college is the best way to hope to end the practice of legacy admission. But that’s just our two cents. And now we’ll get off our soapbox!