The Relationship Between Legacy Admission and Giving

Legacy Admission, Legacy Admission, Admission of Legacies
We’ve got an opinion or two on the practice of legacy admission (photo credit: Alfred Hutter).

Over the years, we have called many times for an end to the practice of legacy admission, the practice of offering preferential treatment in admissions to the children and grandchildren of a school’s alumni base. But in that same breath, we have also asserted that offering preferential treatment to the progeny of all alumni can’t just be eliminated in one fell swoop. And why? Because the alumni who have contributed major dollars to their alma maters are largely responsible for filling the very financial aid coffers that educate low-income students at their alma maters. And, yes, these alumni do expect something back for their donations — a quid pro quo if you will — in the form of their children and grandchildren receiving preferential treatment in admissions.

Most Alumni Aren’t Major Donors

While there is no perfect solution to ending legacy admission, we have long proposed eliminating the legacy advantage for all but a subset of alumni — for all but the progeny of the major donors. But Ivy Coach! How could you! We know, we know. It’s not a perfect solution. But we don’t believe there is a perfect solution and our solution is at least grounded in data. In fact, in a report entitled “An Empirical Analysis Of The Impact Of Legacy Preferences On Alumni Giving At Top Universities,” the study’s authors, Chad Coffman, Tara O’Neil, and Brian Starr, found, “Our primary finding is that, after inclusion of appropriate controls, including wealth, there is no statistically significant evidence of a causal relationship between legacy preference policies and total alumni giving among top universities. Using annual panel data covering 1998 to 2008 for the top one hundred universities, we show that…more than 70 percent of the variation in alumni giving across institutions and time can be explained. The coefficients all have the expected signs and there is no statistically significant evidence that legacy preferences impact total alumni giving…Legacy preference policies, in their pure form, do not purport to reward alumni donations with a greater chance of acceptance; they purport to give a greater chance of acceptance to all alumni, regardless of whether they donate.”

Major Donors Fill Financial Aid Coffers and Thus Their Children Arguably Merit Advantage in Admissions

And therein, we believe, lies the major problem with legacy admission. The study’s authors essentially found that there is no relationship between alumni giving and legacy preference in admissions. But, of course, our readers are likely scratching their heads and wondering, “What about the children of alumni who donated libraries and such?” Yes, of course the children of library donors have an advantage in that school’s admissions process. In fact, we believe the study’s finding that there is no relationship between total alumni giving and legacy preference — only point to the fact that colleges shouldn’t be filling so many slots with the progeny of alumni who don’t make major donations, who don’t contribute big time to subsidizing the education costs of their alma mater’s low-income students.

So wait, Ivy Coach, you want only the super privileged to receive preferential treatment in admissions, not the not super privileged? Yes, that’s precisely right. This will free up lots of slots in each incoming class and this way, the well-heeled can continue to fill college financial aid coffers that subsidize the education of low-income young people.

 
 

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