The Ivy Coach Daily

April 6, 2011

Legacy Applicants

Is legacy admission a violation of tax law? Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke.

There is a book that has come out this year featuring a compilation of research articles by scholars and journalists on the topic of legacy admission to colleges. The book is entitled Affirmative Action for the Rich and this title fittingly reflects the author’s, Richard Kahlenberg’s, viewpoint on the subject. Let’s just say Mr. Kahlenberg is no fan of legacy admission.

According to Mr. Kahlenberg as articulated in “The Daily Princetonian,” “Research by Princeton professor Thomas Espenshade GS ’72 suggests that legacy candidates are getting 160 SAT points added to their scores on a scale of 400–1600. Research by former University President William Bowen GS ’58 finds your chances of admission increase by almost 20 percent, so that a student whose academic record suggests she has a 20 percent chance of getting in then has a 40 percent chance just based on who her parents are.”

Many believe that colleges admit legacy applicants because they believe this will have a positive impact on their endowment. They are rewarding the alumni who donate money to their alma maters. But is this true? According to Mr. Kahlenberg, the answer is a definitive no: “No evidence has ever been presented to suggest that the existence of a legacy preference increases giving. It’s always just been assumed, which is kind of ironic, given that we’re talking about universities where research is conducted every day on various topics. When you control for the wealth of the alumni and institutions, there is no evidence that the existence of alumni preferences increases the donations of alumni [to the top 100 national universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report]. Furthermore, there was no substantial drop in alumni giving at seven institutions that dropped legacy preferences.”

Mr. Kahlenberg believes that legacy admission will soon no longer exist. He believes a constitutional lawyer will take up the fight, deeming it in violation of the 1866 Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination based on race and ancestry. We at Ivy Coach are unconvinced that admitting legacy applicants does not benefit the university’s endowment. We would first need to see some figures to be convinced. But the notion of legacy admission being eliminated one day doesn’t seem too farfetched. Time will tell but for now, it’s a major benefit to college applicants.

Check out “The Daily Princetonian” article “Richard Kahlenberg on Legacy Admissions” here.

And check out our related blog, A Harvard Admit, and newsletter, Playing the Admission Card.

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