The Ivy Coach Daily

March 1, 2021

Why Elite Universities Still Need Wealthy Applicants

The University of Pennsylvania admits a whole lot of legacy applicants in the Early Decision round (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

Wondering why our nation’s elite universities, which profess to want to educate diverse students from low-income backgrounds who will often be the first in their families to attend college, admit so many wealthy applicants? At Stanford University, as an example, more than 50% of the undergraduate student body hails from the wealthiest 10% of families in America. 17% come from the top 1%. Need we say more? So why are these schools, which literally brag in their press releases on each incoming class about the percentage of students who are from low-income backgrounds and/or will be the first in their families to attend college, admitting so many wealthy applicants when they could be earmarking more of those slots for less privileged applicants? Wouldn’t admitting fewer wealthy applicants contribute to the university’s mission of helping to create a meritocracy?

Wealthy Students Subsidize the Educations of Low-Income Students

Unfortunately, the answer — as our system of higher education stands now — is no. You see, in short, these wealthy applicants with their donor parents subsidize the educations of low-income students. These elite universities need these wealthy applicants to achieve their missions. It’s as simple as that. As Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (to which we are a member), says in a piece in Inside Higher Ed by Scott Jaschik entitled “Is Stanford Letting In Too Many Wealthy Students?,” “’One angle we don’t often think of is the intersection of admission and fundraising,’ he said. ’The majority of institutions are highly dependent on philanthropy to achieve their goals. Often the goal of increasing socioeconomic diversity is directly at odds with an institution’s philanthropic efforts. Most development offices do research on the backgrounds of applicants with wealthy parents. Admission officers often wrestle with the challenge of opening the doors wider to low-income students while feeling pressure to admit others whose families could help position the institution for financial success…The tuition and fees colleges charge students is only a fraction of what they spend on their education, especially at residential colleges. American higher education must grapple with its funding model. Until that changes, we aren’t going to move the needle very far on diversity efforts.’”

We Propose Decreasing Legacy Slots and Making Each Slot Count More

As our readers know well, we have long been in favor of eliminating legacy admissions. But yet we are also not naive. Legacy admission isn’t going away in its entirety anytime soon since these institutions depend on donations — donations from wealthy alumni whose children will subsequently attend the universities. And while our proposal, we acknowledge in advance, is so far from perfect, we will put it forward once again for all to see: only applicants whose alumni parents have made major donations to an institution should be flagged as legacy. It’s ridiculous that, at certain elite universities, about 25% of Early Decision admits are legacies. Too many of these admits aren’t subsidizing the educations of low-income students. So, basically, reserve fewer seats for legacy applicants — and make each seat count. And before the critics pipe in, “Ivy Coach is only making this suggestion so as to help its own clients,” know that major donors to universities are not our clients. After all, our clients don’t need to pay millions of dollars to colleges to improve the cases of admission of their offspring. They can pay us instead. Mic drop.

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