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Wednesday, August 16, 2017
The Truth About Legacy Admissions
Even before the tumultuous election year of 2016 churned up the ugly sludge of America's racist history, the broiling issue of affirmative action in college admissions simmered ominously in the background. Last week, the issue was pulled to center stage when it was discovered that the Trump administration intended to investigate affirmative action-in order to make sure that white students weren't being unfairly overlooked.
Setting aside, for the moment, the unassailable fact that white and Asian students comprise the vast majority of all university students, a conversation getting less traction in the media is the one that should be happening, about legacy admits.
It's fairly easy to track the racial make-up of existing students. It's much harder to track statistics on students who applied and did not get in. But various higher education analyses reveal that legacy admits are several times as likely to be admitted than non-legacy applicants. Legacy admits also come overwhelmingly from the upper class-a group of students that already has a thumb on the scale of privilege.
It's worth noting that legacy candidates make up a relatively small percentage of admittees (around 6%), and that legacy advantage seems to be greater at highly selective colleges. Legacy admits are overwhelmingly white and wealthy, and because they are a monetary boon to the universities, the practice is unlikely to be questioned or abolished.
It is, however, another form of the very affirmative action that many raucously oppose. Despite the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the dominant classes in higher education, there exists a palpable fear that non-white students will somehow be handed something for free. This is the very ideology that underscored the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia this week.
It's crucial to remember that universities are much more than hallowed institutions of learning. They are big businesses. Legacy admissions are vital to their brand and their bottom line. Strip all that away, however, and you’ll find that they are simply another form of preferential admission. One that hides quietly in the background, largely unchecked.
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