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NY Times Op-Ed: Dump Legacy Preference


Replies to: NY Times Op-Ed: Dump Legacy Preference

  • M's MomM's Mom Registered User Posts: 4,562 Senior Member
    One of the primary beneficiaries of legacy status are the children of current faculty and senior staff. I wonder if the author would find this more defensible. Is avoiding having to deal with upset faculty and staff whose kids were turned down, a good enough reason to admit them-assuming, as the schools assure us, that they met the academic standards? I also wonder how many kids in the legacy category fall into this group vs. the kids of alums.
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    There are a couple of separate questions, I think:

    1) Should a school be able to make admissions decisions that benefit the institution and increase its probability of surviving as an elite institution in the future? I think the answer to this is yes, even if it means admitting a few kids that meet the school's standards but would have had a lower probability of acceptance than some other applicants. This happens - "development" candidates (e.g., dad's a billionaire), celebrity applicants (where either the kid is a celebrity or a parent is), etc. In each case, an institutional objective is being served - financial support in the future, visibility in the press, etc. Every legacy applicant may not offer that kind of impact, but at the top schools it's not that much of an advantage, either. If I was applying to Harvard, I'd rather be Bill Gates' kid or a successful teen movie star than the kid of an undistinguished grad from the class of '85.

    2) Do legacy admissions benefit the school? The author of the op-ed piece cites research saying they don't. I haven't seen the research, but it seems to fly in the face of logic. Surely, families with multi-generation ties to an institution are more likely to be generous in supporting it, and are more likely to encourage their own kids to apply when they are of college age.

    I'd guess that if legacies were truly shown to be no better financially for the schools, the admissions preferences would vanish. Indeed, with the minimal preference at most schools now, perhaps they have already made that decision - likely, many of the legacy candidates admitted are also development prospects or have some other edge. Or, maybe they are actually among the most qualified.

    I think some people overestimate the benefit of legacy status. I'd be surprised if the stats of legacy admits were signficantly different than the class as a whole, at least at the most elite schools.
  • gotogoalgotogoal Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    If these elite PRIVATE Colleges and Universities want to admit kids based on legacy family connections....that's fine.....HOWEVER, they should not retain their Federal tax status as a not-for-profit institution. They no longer comply with the tax defintion....in fact, schools like Middlebury and Bowdoin and Harvard and Princeton should have lost their no-tax status long ago. What's really happening, because of their tax status, is each and everyone of us are subsidizing those schools.

    Also consider this: Rich families will donate funds (it's currently a tax deduction) to their favorite private college...in return little Suzie or little Johnnie are admitted and given a free "academic" ride. The school gets money and the family takes a hefty tax write-off that would otherwise NOT exist.

    Wake up small people...they are being subsidized by you and ME!

    If 99% of the students are not accepted based on merit or a EO need approved by Congress, then they lose their tax free status. If they want to be a school of the "connected" then the consequence is you are no longer a not-for-profit institution - PERIOD!
  • VanagandrVanagandr - Posts: 730 Member
    It's wrong. Period. It's Affirmative Action for well-to-do white kids.

    As opposed to someone else?
  • UVaHoo87UVaHoo87 Registered User Posts: 334 Member
    it appears, based on anecdotal evidence, that legacy favoritism has gone the way of the dodo at my alma mater, unless, of course, you are an out-of-state legacy that will pay the big out-of-state tuition to go to UVa.
  • marysidneymarysidney Registered User Posts: 572 Member
    You know, I've read the articles, and I understand the resentment felt by people who feel that legacies have an edge they themselves lack, but I really feel this is overblown. There are lots and lots of legacies with decent stats that don't get in to the Ivy-type schools; that there are 10% legacies at a given school does not mean that all of them got in, despite inadequacies, because they were legacies. Far more likely, IMO, is that kids whose parents went to the school, apply and attend because their parents liked the school; most of them, probably the great majority of them, had offers from similar colleges but went to their parents' school, not because it was the only one that would have them, but because they (and their parents, who are shelling out the cash) have good associations with them. My own daughter is a legacy at my school, but her stats are higher than the average, by a good way; she had a 4.0 gpa last year, taking almost entirely upper level courses her freshman year; she could have gone to many places, but she applied to her college ED because she knew it through me, liked it, and knew she would be happy there. I don't think she is unusual. Yes, there probably are cases of legacies getting spots that non-hooked kids might otherwise have gotten; but there are plenty of other situations that are similar--that is, there are always discussions about how colleges, being interested in yield, try to figure out which students will actually attend, and accept them rather than ones who (in the college's opinion) may not be "really interested." Legacy is, in that sense, not so much a hook for the student as it is an effort by the college to take someone who will come, and thus will make the college look better.
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    >>If they want to be a school of the "connected"

    Actually, many NON-connected applicants to elite schools would cite the connections they expect to make as a major reason for preferring the elite school vs. a less-prestigious college. :)
  • latepartylateparty Registered User Posts: 316 Member
    This pertains to Stanford:

    "Legacies a fifth of the Class of 2013" is title of article by Alex Yu in Stanford Daily newspaper last school year (2009-2010), sorry I don't have complete reference. I find this a disgusting practice.
    "Legacies at Princeton, by comparison, composed a comparatively lower proportion of the Class of 2013 at only 12.7 percent of the total class."
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    Public schools like UC Berkely should not have legacy and they don't.

    Some publics do. Michigan, for example.
    Private schools rely heavily on private donations should be allowed to have legacy. Private schools are non-profit business and they should be allowed to survive.

    Some "public" universities also have large endowments and rely heavily on private donations. Again to use Michigan as an example, legislative appropriations make up about 7% of their annual operating budget. The rest comes from competitive research grants, payouts from their $7 billion endowment (accumulated mainly from private donations), annual alumni giving, surpluses generated by their highly successful athletic program, "surplus" generated by their health-and-hospitals system, intellectual property revenue from patents, licensing revenue from Michigan-logo apparel and paraphernalia, etc. They are no less a "non-profit business" than Harvard or Stanford, and their overall finances are very similar. And functionally, they are an independent public corporation, recognized by the state constitution as a separate entity from the state government, and not under its direction or control. The only difference between the University of Michigan and a private school is that the state constitution (not a private charter) provides for the public election of their governing body, the Board of Regents; and the state legislature appropriates a relatively modest sum to them annually, on the understanding that in return the university will provide a generous tuition discount to Michigan residents. Problem is, though, these days the in-state tuition discount is larger than the legislative appropriation. And with legislative appropriations shrinking, I expect "public" institutions like Michigan or UC Berkeley will come to look more and more like private ones with the passage of time. Michigan and Virginia are already pretty far down that road. Others are sure to follow.

    Bottom line, I think your public/private distinction just doesn't hold water.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    marysidney wrote:
    You know, I've read the articles, and I understand the resentment felt by people who feel that legacies have an edge they themselves lack, but I really feel this is overblown. There are lots and lots of legacies with decent stats that don't get in to the Ivy-type schools; that there are 10% legacies at a given school does not mean that all of them got in, despite inadequacies, because they were legacies. Far more likely, IMO, is that kids whose parents went to the school, apply and attend because their parents liked the school; most of them, probably the great majority of them, had offers from similar colleges but went to their parents' school, not because it was the only one that would have them, but because they (and their parents, who are shelling out the cash) have good associations with them.

    Well that's a very nice theory. Problem is, that's not the conclusion reached by those who have actually studied the data. Studies of admissions data---not enrollment data, mind you, but who gets ACCEPTED to a school---concluded that being a legacy is the equivalent of 160 additional points (on a 1600-point CR+M scale) on the applicant's SAT. Think about that. Non-legacy applicants with a 1420 SAT score get admitted to Princeton at something like a 4% or 5% rate. Non-legacy applicants with a 1580 SAT score get admitted to Princeton at about a 20% rate. If the studies are right and the legacies are getting the equivalent of a 160-point SAT boost, the LEGACY applicant with the 1420 SAT CR+M has the same chance of admission as the 1580 non-legacy applicant---i.e., 20%, v. 5% for the non-legacy with identical stats. That's a stunningly large difference, and strikingly unequal treatment. Assuming, of course, that the claim of a 160-point SAT boost is correct (which I'm still not entirely convinced of, by the way, because I haven't seen the data).

    Of course, you could say, "So what? It's still the case that 4 out of every 5 legacies with 1420 SATs are not going to be accepted; and it's still the case that some non-legacies with similar stats are going to be accepted." And that's all true. But think about it from the perspective of the non-legacy, non-URM, non-recruited athlete. Lots of people in all these thumb-on-the-scale categories will be rejected, too. But with so many people in all these categories getting an extra boost on admissions, and with legacies ranging from 10 to 25% of the entering class, and URMs maybe another 10 to 15%, and recruited athletes another, what, 15 or 20%---there's got to be some crowding out going on, to the serious disadvantage of the unhooked. Granted, there's some overlap among the hooked groups--some legacy URMs or legacy athletes or URM athletes, and even a few "triple threat" legacy URM athletes. And some significant fraction, probably even most of those who ultimately are admitted, can plausibly claim that their stats are within the range of those who might have been admitted anyway, even without the thumb on the scale in their favor. But ultimately it's all just a probabilities game, and the probabilities appear to heavily favor certain categories of applicants. Because admissions is ultimately a zero-sum game, that's unavoidably going to reduce the chances of the unhooked to gain admission. If it's true, as claimed, that the 1420-SAT legacy is roughly four times likelier to be admitted than the unhooked applicant with similar stats, then from the point of view of those of us on the outside looking in, it begins to appear that the game is decidedly rigged against us.

    I think the OpEd's legal theories are pretty far-fetched. And personally, I have no problem saying schools should have a lot of latitude to decide for themselves who they want to admit. I do have some concern, as a matter of social policy, if the effect of legacy admissions is a systematic and substantial reverse discrimination in favor of a predominantly white and privileged elite; and if that effect is substantial, I'd question whether we as a society want to reward that self-aggrandizing behavior with public benefits like tax-deductible status and tax-exempt property and public subsidies of various kinds. Let them admit who they want, in other words, but as taxpayers we don't need to subsidize it. But mostly I think at this point schools should just come clean and give us more extensive and detailed data about who they're admitting, and from which groups, so we can make better informed and more intelligent choices as a society, and so that applicants and their families can make intelligent and informed choices as consumers.
  • Professor101Professor101 Registered User Posts: 640 Member
    Bottom line, I think your public/private distinction just doesn't hold water.
    That's not my main point. Main point is we cannot treat all legacy cases the same. I know that Michigan, UVa and other public schools allow legacy, but again they have more than 30% OOS while Berkeley has less than 10%. Even the privates are not the same. The LACs are different from the major research universities. For public schools, whether to allow legacy also depends on the politics of individual state. Liberal states like California are less likely to allow legacy.
  • thentheresmethentheresme Registered User Posts: 114 Junior Member
    I'm all for removing legacy preference. Not only because it is unfair to the well-qualified candidate who happens to match the statistics of a legacy, but because of the pressure it puts on legacies to attend the same school as their parents. I'm a double-leg at UPenn and would never even consider going there as the atmosphere and curricula are nowhere near what I want and need. However, I've been pressured by everyone who finds out that my parents went there to apply and even apply ED "because [I'm] a legacy! You have to!" and other idiotic reasons. People need to consider the legacy effect on those who don't want it as well.

    Funnily enough, I'm writing a commentary based off of reading this article (I'd seen it previously, I read the NY Times often because I'm a journalist) on the viewpoint expressed above.
  • marysidneymarysidney Registered User Posts: 572 Member
    Okay, Bclintonk, I went back and looked at the study--singular--that was quoted in the article. First, they based their analysis on a study of three elite colleges, over cohorts from 1983, 1993, and 1997; with 119,649 applicants, only 4,725 were legacies. That's right, three percent. I am not a statistician, but I do know that that is not a great beginning to a study, because the number studied is such a low percentage; in addition, it's a relatively outdated group of applicants. All of us parents know that times have changed since we applied, 25 years ago.

    This study only looked at SAT scores. When the authors examined studies that also looked at GPAs and class rankings, the results get murkier: "A second qualification relates to the possibility that the legacy advantage is overstated when viewed in the context of a single institution. Even though nonlegacy candidates face an admission disadvantage compared to legacy applicants at a given school, they are likely to be accepted by another very good institution because the talent level in the overall applicant pool is so high" "The legacy advantage weakens appreciably when students apply to multiple institutions. Legacy applicants to a single institution have even odds of being accepted compared to a 22 percent likelihood for nonlegacies. When stu- dents apply to two institutions, the likelihood of being accepted by at least one of them grows, and the gap shrinks between applicants who are a legacy at neither school and other legacy applicants. The chances of being accepted somewhere are high (between two-thirds and three-quarters) when students apply to all three schools. The difference between legacies and nonlegacies has narrowed to fewer than 10 percentage points. In addition, the likelihood that a student who has applied to all three institutions and is not a legacy at any of them will be accepted by at least one (64.4 percent) exceeds the probability of admission for legacy applicants to a sole institution (50.2 percent). These additional results suggest that an analysis that relies on the disposition of applications to a specific university overstates the importance attached to being a legacy and that the ability to claim legacy status at a particular institution is ultimately less consequential for being admitted to some prestigious university when students are applying to many schools." And, in conclusion, "our analysis may overstate the legacy advantage. Unlike other student traits that are relatively transferable among the most selective schools (high standardized test scores and class rank, minority student status, and athletic ability), applying as a legacy is institution specific. We show that the admission advantage benefiting legacy applicants to a particular school is substantially weakened if talented students submit applications to several colleges and universities."

    So, my "very nice theory" is actually substantiated by the very study you cite (if, in fact, you bothered to read it): most legacies at the most elite colleges (which are the ones people are worried about) would also apply to similar institutions; of such applicants, the fact that they are legacies is much less significant than that they have the kind of SAT scores, GPAs, and coursework that would otherwise enable them to get entrance to an equally "elite" college. I think this is typical of the use of "studies" to illustrate points that a journalist or author wants to make: the dramatic significance of "160 points on the SAT" is entirely undercut when you look at the study's findings in context. In that context, the legacy effect is minor, compared with the overall effect of, say, a privileged background in achieving the kind of scores and ECs that stand out. In that sense, all parents with an income over a certain amount, or with one parent to stay home and drive the kid to all his activities, or in an urban environment with more access to cultural enrichment, have an unfair advantage over parents, and children, without that kind of privilege. Unless you are prepared to change all of those privileged advantages, I cannot get excited about the "legacy advantage."
  • Roger_DooleyRoger_Dooley Founder Posts: 106,392 Senior Member
    I agree, marysidney, the legacy advantage is greatly overrated. I've heard too many stories of rejected or waitlisted legacies with stellar stats to think that being a legacy is a magic bullet.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    ^^ So if I understand your point, marysidney, it's that if you're NOT a legacy at an elite college, don't worry about it, because even though the legacy applicants at that institution will be admitted at more than DOUBLE the rate of non-legacies, you'll probably get in SOMEWHERE if you just apply to enough schools---because the legacies are typically going to be legacies at only one or two schools, and they have no particular advantage over you at their non-legacy schools. Isn't that what you just told me? And I'm supposed to find that comforting if I'm a non-legacy at my preferred school: "Don't worry, you'll probably get in somewhere, dear."

    I've heard too many stories of rejected or waitlisted legacies with stellar stats to think that being a legacy is a magic bullet.

    I don't think anyone on this thread ever said being a legacy was a "magic bullet." Sure, lots of legacies get rejected. But that doesn't mean that as a class legacies don't have an unfair and unwarranted advantage that completely contradicts the image these schools try to project, as meritocracies. Or that they don't play a significant role in reproducing a self-perpetuating elite based on bloodlines that perhaps we as taxpayers might not want to continue to support through tax-deductibility, tax exemptions, and public subsidies of various kinds.
This discussion has been closed.