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Elite Colleges’ Quiet Fight to Favor Alumni Children

Yale described the incoming class of 2025 and boasted that its students came from 48 states, 68 countries and 1,221 high schools. In addition, the university announced last year that 51 percent of its class were identified as students of color.

But while Yale promotes the diversity of its freshmen, the college has maintained an admissions tradition — legacy preferences — that mostly benefits students who are white, wealthy, and well-connected. From the incoming students 14 percent were the offspring of a Yale graduate and received the kind of admissions boost used at other elite institutions.

Not much has made a dent in the age-old tradition, despite efforts to end the preference of progressive students, legislators and educational reformers. Many colleges say that legacy students cement family ties and multi-generational loyalty. And only a few elite colleges have abolished preference.

However, the practice of legacy withdrawals may soon face its biggest test yet — and in a twist, its future could be linked to the future of affirmative action.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments this fall about the race-conscious admissions policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina. If the court ends or reverses the widespread practice of considering race when selecting students, as many experts expect, the ruling could lead to a reconsideration of legacy applicants. Explicitly favoring the children of alumni — some of whom would be competitive candidates regardless of their socioeconomic advantages — would become harder to defend if racial preferences are no longer allowed.

“If the Supreme Court bans affirmative action, inheritance preferences won’t last long for this world,” said Justin Driver, a professor at Yale Law School. mr. Driver, a Supreme Court and education expert, supports race-conscious admissions, calling legacy preferences “kind of like looking for Elon Musk to buy the winning ticket.”

The University of California system, the University of Georgia, and Texas A&M all ended legacy preferences as they were pressured by lawsuits and voting initiatives to stop using affirmative action, according to an analysis by the Century Foundation.

Students for Fair Admissions, the conservative group that filed the Supreme Court cases against Harvard and North Carolina — and also sued Yale — has argued that eliminating legacy preferences is one way to help achieve racial diversity without using affirmative action, which the organization says is discriminatory. A member of the court, Judge Clarence Thomas, has openly opposed affirmative action and expressed his belief that legacy preferences and other factors poison the admission process.

That context puts universities in a decidedly tricky position when it comes to defending legacy recordings. The subject is so sensitive that few officials at selective colleges with legacy biases would discuss it.

The use of legacy confessions dates back to the 1920s, when elite colleges, traditionally the domain of wealthy Protestants, worried that places were taken by jews and catholics.

The exact number of schools using legacy preferences is unknown, but an investigation by Inside Higher Ed in 2018, 42 percent of private schools — including most of the nation’s elite institutions — and 6 percent of public schools found using the strategy. Only a handful of elite colleges — including Johns Hopkins and Amherst — have given up preference in recent years.

Many university officials have argued that legacy preferences are only a small part of the selection process. But on a practical level, they help colleges manage their enrollment rates and predict their tuition income. Legacy students, as children of alumni are called, are more likely to attend if they are admitted, increasing a factor known in the industry as “yield.”

Donations are also a factor. “I think a lot of elite and exclusive schools feel like they need to use the legacy preference piece as a mechanism to raise money from alumni,” said Andrew Gounardes, a Brooklyn state senator who recently sponsored a bill. that would have banned legacy preferences in New York.

His bill was opposed by the state’s private school association, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. including highly selective colleges such as Columbia, Cornell and Colgate.

In Connecticut, where lawmakers held a hearing on the issue in February, Yale was among the private schools to rise in opposition. In written testimonyJeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions, called the proposed ban a government interference in university affairs.

“The process of selecting students for admission, along with the processes of hiring faculty and deciding which courses to offer, define a campus community and culture,” he wrote.

Peter Arcidiacono, a Duke economist who analyzed Harvard data released in the Students for Fair Admissions case, found it that a typical white applicant for an inheritance would have a fivefold increase in the likelihood of being admitted.

His analysis also found that legacy applicants gained a greater advantage over the years. While the proportion of admitted students who are legate or athlete has remained stable, there has been little growth in the number of applicants who fit into those categories. At the same time, applications to Harvard and other elite colleges have skyrocketed.

Even eliminating legacy preferences at Harvard would not make up for the loss of diversity if race-conscious admissions were also eliminated.

Harvard declined to release figures on its legacy admissions, but a Harvard Crimson survey of incoming students reported that: legacies made up about 15.5 percent of last year’s freshman class. The analysis of Dr. Spanning several years, Arcidiacono found a 14 percent admission rate at Harvard.

For the most part, the exact impact of legacy recordings on campus is a black box. “Universities are hiding their data,” says Dr. Arcidiacono, who was hired as an expert witness by Students for Fair Admissions.

The New York Times attempted to interview more than 20 presidents and admissions directors at selective schools that use legacy preferences, but a large majority of them were unavailable for interviews, including Yale president Peter Salovey and Harvard president Lawrence. S. Bacow .

Several other university leaders have publicly defended the system, saying it builds loyalty and a special bond.

“We are an institution made in a family – the Duke family,” Vincent Price, Duke’s president, said in a speech to the faculty. He added, “The idea that you’d ban legacy preferences, or ban a particular factor as a consideration, is tricky.” A survey this year by The Chronicle, a student newspaper, found that about 22 percent of freshmen had parents or siblings who attended Duke.

dr. Price was not made available for an interview. Neither was Martha Pollack, the president of Cornell.

In an interview with the campus newspaper in 2018, Dr. Pollack: “We’re trying to create a Cornell family that lasts for generations.” Cornell would not release his legacy figures.

College officials who agreed to talk to The Times generally downplayed the importance of a legacy preference in their admissions process — and emphasized that some black alumni supported the practice.

After the civil rights movement, the number of black colleges in the United States increased fourfold from 1970 to 2010. The children of many of those black college graduates are ready to enter college.

The University of Virginia, a highly selective public school that began admitting black students in the 1950s, sometimes pays special attention to inheritances, which made up about 14 percent of freshman and transfer students last year, according to Vice Provost Steve Farmer. of registration.

In an interview, Mr. Farmer that the topic came up this year at a meeting of black alumni. “I spoke to people one by one, and three of the first five questions had to do with the admission of older students for color,” said Mr. farmer.

“We have a lot of friends whose kids go to school,” said Sanford S. Williams, a teacher at the UCLA School of Law and an active black alumnus of the University of Virginia. “They think, ‘Why is the rug pulled from under us every time we get a chance to do something?'”

Mr Williams and his wife, dr. Anastasia Williams both have degrees in Virginia, as do their three children. And he supports legacy preferences, as long as they’re just a small part of the admissions process.

Future alumni may think otherwise.

Logan Roberts, a white college student from Groton, NY, heads an organization of first-generation college students at Yale, where he said the class divide came into sharp focus after the national Varsity Blues scandal, in which parents were caught bribing their children. away to elite colleges, including Yale.

Mr. Roberts, an emerging senior, drafted a resolution opposing legacy preferences that was passed in October by the Yale College Senate Council.

“Students who already have one leg up don’t need another leg up,” he said.