The growing discourse surrounding legacy admissions

The Miscellany News.

In the span of a year, the conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court has handed down rulings on some of the most divisive issues in American society, reflecting the impact of the three conservative justices appointed during President Trump’s tenure. The expansion of gun rights, the striking down of what was once considered a constitutional right to abortion and, most recently, the rejection of race consciousness in college admissions have thrown the legitimacy of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) into question and further politicized it.

According to Pew Research, a slim majority of the public disapproves of race-conscious college admissions—though partisans express sharply different views along with substantial differences across racial groups. Between Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 74 percent disapprove of affirmative action. In comparison, 54 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents approve of this practice in college admissions. Additionally, 47 percent of Black Americans approve of colleges considering race in the admissions process, while 57 percent of white and 52 percent of Asian Americans disapprove. Meanwhile, Hispanic Americans hold a balanced share at 39 percent approval and disapproval. 

As can be suggested by these numbers, this is a very dividing issue among the public. In recent months, another controversial issue has shared the spotlight that is also linked to the college admissions process—legacy preferences.

The most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States hold a preference in admitting the wealthiest of students, according to CBS News. By extension, this additionally applies to legacy applicants because according to a recent analysis done by Opportunity Insights, they are more likely to come from wealthy backgrounds—“And legacy students from the richest one percent of families were five times as likely to be admitted.”

Per CBS News, Vassar has one of the highest tuition rates in the nation as of 2019, and yet is also one of the most economically-diverse, elite liberal arts colleges, which is not saying much considering the grand scheme of the wealth gap in higher education. While Vassar may have enrolled 13.5 percent of students coming from the bottom 40 percent, as of a 2017 report from The New York Times, Colorado College enrolled more students from the top one percent (24.2) than from the bottom 60 percent (10.5). Numbers like these show just how top-heavy prestigious institutions are, and how the college experience is truly limited to a select few.

According to a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed from 2018, 42 percent of private colleges, and 6 percent of public colleges use legacy admissions. Just a few weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling this past summer, the focus was further shifted towards other colleges who still continue legacy considerations after Wesleyan, as overviewed by The New York Times, ceased the practice.

Vassar is by no means at the forefront of the legacy admissions issue, as they admitted 5.4 percent legacy students in the Class of 2026, according to the Class of 2026 Profile—a number that is considerably lower than other prestigious institutions such as Harvard, which according to court papers, reports legacy applicants as only five percent of the application pool, but represent 30 percent of those admitted each year. Additionally, Vassar has maintained a commitment to equity through a need-blind financial aid policy and a test-optional policy enacted last semester.

Navigating how legacy consideration harms the college admissions process is important because of how it maintains wealth disparities. The major problem that must be addressed, though, before legacy admissions can be abolished is the social-class and financial inequalities that plague the college experience and our society as a whole, as explained by the National Library of Medicine. Additionally, social categorizations of gender and race intersecting with class have long created different modes of discrimination and privilege. 

According to our President Emerita Catharine Bond Hill, “Attention to legacy admissions is justified but missing the point. If legacy admissions are ended, without increased commitments to recruiting, admitting and supporting lower and middle-income students with greater need-based financial aid, the children of Harvard’s graduates will go to Stanford, Stanford’s to Princeton and so on.”

Legacy considerations corrupt the admission process and in the long term should be abolished. Legacy applicants who are disproportionately wealthier than the rest of the applicant pool do benefit colleges by enabling them to provide financial aid packages for other students. However, this also means that the legacy admissions process is inextricably linked to the financial considerations of admitting other students. If higher education continues to support being a wealthy legacy applicant as its own qualification in pairing with affirmative action now out of the picture, wealth inequalities will create further socioeconomic divide, alongside a reduction of overall diversity that has grown to be a key characteristic and point of embrace for college culture in the United States.

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