It's time to end legacy admissions, op-ed argues

The move would help increase diversity, author writes

Jeffrey Selingo, former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education and professor of practice at Arizona State University, argues in the Washington Post that universities should get rid of legacy admissions and instead increase efforts to recruit an economically diverse student body.  

Selingo cites a few statistics highlighting the lack of economic diversity on college campuses:

  • At 5 Ivy League colleges (and 38 others), there are more students from families in the top 1% income bracket than the lower 60%;
  • Only 22% of students at the top colleges receive Pell grants, compared with approximately 38% at other institutions; and
  • Less than a half of 1% of students from the bottom fifth income bracket attend an elite college. 

Given that the number of lower-income students attending college is expected to grow during the next decade, Selingo writes, there should be even more urgency for college admissions offices to make room for these students. "The easiest way for elite universities to bridge the growing economic divide on their campuses and have their student bodies look like the rest of America is to eliminate legacy admissions," Selingo argues.

Some colleges and universities contend that they continue giving preference to the children of alumni because it stimulates alumni giving. The notion is that the pride alumni have in their alma mater will increase if their children also attend the school.

However, Selingo argues there's little evidence to support this claim. He cites a book, Affirmative Action for the Rich by Chad Coffman, which found that there was "no short-term measurable reduction in alumni giving" after seven colleges stopped legacy admissions between 1998 and 2008.

The book also found that during the 1960s—a period when it says Yale University legacy admits decreased—alumni expressed anger and legacy rates increased again. But when legacy admits dropped again earlier this decade, no one seemed to notice (Selingo, The Washington Post, 4/7).

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