Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 24, 2010

Legacy Admissions: Affirmative Action for the Rich

Affirmarive Action for the Rich Richard D. Kahlenberg (The Century Foundatio) has published Affirmative Action for the Rich:  Legacy Preferences in College Admissions (Brookings Institution, 2010):

The use of race-based affirmative action in higher education has given rise to hundreds of books and law review articles, numerous court decisions, and several state initiatives to ban the practice. However, surprisingly little has been said or written or done to challenge a larger, longstanding "affirmative action" program that tends to benefit wealthy whites: legacy preferences for the children of alumni.

Affirmative Action for the Rich sketches the origins of legacy preferences, examines the philosophical issues they raise, outlines the extent of their use today, studies their impact on university fundraising, and reviews their implications for civil rights. In addition, the book outlines two new theories challenging the legality of legacy preferences, examines how a judge might review those claims, and assesses public policy options for curtailing alumni preferences.

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That's exactly what it is...Affirmative Action for the Rich -- how else could poor students like Ted Kennedy gain admittance to Harvard? Now that we've got Affirmative Action for Minorities, too, that squeezes the middle class and races like Asians even more, who tend to outperform and hence have overrepresentation if not for AA. It's almost to the point where hard work doesn't count for much.

Posted by: Concerned Citizen | Sep 24, 2010 3:11:38 PM

In some fields, it's a big deal, in other fields (medicine) admission committees often go to the other extreme. In an attempt to prevent any accusations of nepotism, they will NOT admit children of alumni. I'm all for merit based admissions. Ideally, whether your parents went there or not should be irrelevant. The opposite extreme is also problematic.

Posted by: matt | Sep 24, 2010 3:55:15 PM

When I applied to some top schools after high school, I knew I was not getting in when they requested financial information on my parents. There really wasn't much to provide since I was raised by a single mother on welfare. I, of course got rejected, despite my top-notch grades and SAT scores. After all, why would they want to bring in a poor white male when I don't count towards minority numbers when they could bring in a legacy that will add to the family tradition of the school, and very likely add to the school's endowment?

Posted by: Brian G. | Sep 24, 2010 4:09:23 PM

A legacy admission is more likely if the parents can make fat contributions to the school's endowment fund. Otherwise, if the parents are just average middle-class schmoes who perchance got into the esteemed institution back in the day, tough luck.

Posted by: Andrea | Sep 24, 2010 4:22:05 PM

I like the way they do college admissions in much of Asia. Every kid takes a test on the same day in the spring of his senior year. The kid who scores the highest gets his first choice of schools, then the next highest scorer gets his pick, and so on down the line.

High school grades, letters of recommendation, legacy or ethnic status, sex, and bullsh*t "volunteering" don't count for anything.

Posted by: John Skookum | Sep 24, 2010 4:49:48 PM

The benefit for the school isn't just alumni contributions -- it's that the legacies (like my daughter at Stanford) accept at a higher rate, and acceptance rate is one of the main factors that goes into the U.S. News rankings.

Posted by: baycommuter | Sep 24, 2010 5:48:22 PM

Hey, somebody's got to pay for the other affirmative action programs.
The middle class will be squeezed into non-existence under the Marxists running
the schools. The first thing under Marxists regimes is the destruction of the middle class. If you can't kill them then impoverish them into non-existence.
See USSR, China, Cuba....

Posted by: PTL | Sep 24, 2010 7:36:49 PM

A while back, I would have deafened the private colleges. I think it is important to allow private institutions to function without outside interference. That said, I have grown more and more concerned by the institutional arrogance that the elite private universities display, and their power over promoting people into positions of power in this country.

My conclusion is that the private schools should be required to display a lot more transparency and fairness in their admissions policies. If they can't do it by themselves, they should be required to select from the pool of qualified applicants by lot.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Sep 24, 2010 9:06:59 PM

not deafened, defended. sorry

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Sep 24, 2010 9:11:12 PM

Affirmative action of the racial variety is rightfully controversial because of its essentially hypocritical natue. It pretends to remedy discrimination by practicing it. Legacies that aren't merit based may be justifiably criticized but the affirmative action analogy falls short. The hypocrisy is simply lacking (and I suspect the numbers aren' t in the same ballpark either).

Posted by: Tad E | Sep 24, 2010 9:25:45 PM

President Obama is a "legacy" admission and a Nobel prize winner. Seeing how much he has contributed to America, I wouldn't be so quick to criticize this policy.

Posted by: massproduced | Sep 24, 2010 10:06:15 PM

A clever strategy would be to link the elimination of Aff-Act with Legacy. There's nothing stopping the repubs from introducing a bill denying federal aid to any university that practices either. This would put the opposition between a rock and hard place.

The focus on AA alone is a tad perverse. This would take the edge off a divisive position, which i predict, will infuriate the pro-AA forces and make them appear unhinged.

Posted by: Manju | Sep 24, 2010 10:33:27 PM

"Bias and Bigotry in Academia" - Pat Buchanan.

Google it...A MUST READ.

Posted by: FREE THE ND 88 | Sep 24, 2010 10:59:51 PM

Mr.Obama and his wife both were legacy and affirmative action placements. Mr. Obama has refused to release his grades; Mr.Bush, a legacy admission as well has released his gentlemen Cs. History will give neither a place in the 'Great President's column, but each will be known as Presidents that passed through the halls of Harvard and Yale.

Posted by: donnal | Sep 25, 2010 7:01:38 AM

Seems clear to me that legacy admission preferences should be *taxed*, given that receipt of any thing of financial value is *income*. Getting an otherwise-unqualified student into Harvard is surely at least the equivalent of giving him a small house.

Posted by: david foster | Sep 25, 2010 8:37:34 AM

Also, note that legacy admissions preferences are a way for "elite" college graduates to in effect bypass part of the estate tax, in a way not available to people who created a business.

Posted by: david foster | Sep 25, 2010 8:38:54 AM

Look, say I'm a rich guy. Here's the deal: you take big bucks from me, then I get a say on who gets in. If it's my kid, or my grandkid, or somebody not related to me at all, and I want him in, he gets in. If you don't like that, don't take my money. I'll be happy to donate it to some other fine college that isn't run by cretins. Okay?

Posted by: Carlos | Sep 25, 2010 9:32:50 AM

Once again, it's "let's bash the rich" city, isn't it?

Posted by: Paul A'Barge | Sep 25, 2010 9:49:38 AM

I never begrudged the legacies I met in college. First, they were mostly good students, albeit underrepresented at the top of the class. Second, their families were the ones who paid for most of the infrastructure and the endowment long before people like me were ever admitted.

Posted by: srp | Sep 25, 2010 5:59:21 PM