What Really Happens – Rolling Stone

Elite College harvard legacy

The morning Amherst College announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed it was ending admission preferences for legacy students, alumni group chats lit up. As one Amherst grad characterized it at the time: “I’ve received about 40 texts from aggrieved rich white people since 8 a.m.” 

Privately, some graduates of the prestigious liberal arts college seethed at the news that their children’s applications would not be afforded special consideration by their alma mater, and predicted it would cost the school precious alumni donations. There was talk in some circles of suspending large donations, working powerful connections in the administration, and of quitting volunteer positions in protest of the change.  

But, in spite of the grumbling, the changes to Amherst’s admissions policies — the decision to end legacy admissions was announced alongside a separate expansion of financial aid programs for lower- and middle-income families — have already begun having the desired effect. Last year, in the first cycle since the changes, Amherst saw its largest ever increase in first-generation college students, a group that accounted for almost one-fifth of the incoming freshman class. 

Now, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision gutting affirmative action in July, pressure is building on elite schools to abandon legacy preferences, which, studies have shown, overwhelmingly advantage white applicants. In July, a trio of Boston-based community organizations filed a complaint against Harvard University, arguing that admissions policies violate the Civil Rights Act. The complaint prompted the Department of Education to open an investigation. 

Data made public during the affirmative action lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions v. The President and Fellows of Harvard University, laid bare the enormous advantage afforded to a group of mostly white applicants to Harvard: recruited athletes, the children of faculty and staff, individuals on the “dean’s interest list” (often because of a close relationship with a top donor) and relatives of alumni, or legacy students. 

Forty three percent of white students admitted to Harvard during that period belonged to the group, collectively termed ALDC. Researchers found “roughly three quarters” of ALDC applicants would have been rejected if they were not given special consideration because of their status. At the same time, those researchers found that while the percentage of ALDC students in the larger applicant pool has shrunk in recent years, the rate admitted has remained steady — meaning that those students are enjoying a growing advantage in the application process. 

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal is the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, the group that filed the complaint against Havard. “These preferences that run along lines of family and wealth are not merit-based,” he says. “These are not students who would be admitted in these high numbers if they did not have the legacy or family connections. We need to create a level playing field and make room at all our colleges and universities for hardworking students who have actually earned their place.” 

“Going after Harvard is a matter of basic fairness,” he adds.

Espinoza-Madrigal says he hopes Harvard chooses to abandon the policy voluntarily. A number of schools — including Wesleyan University, Virginia Tech, and Occidental College — have announced they would abandon legacy admissions since the Court’s affirmative action decision. One reason that some institutions that profess their proud commitments to equity may nonetheless retain legacy admissions policies is out of fear of how their alumni may react — and how those reactions could ultimately impact their fundraising.

A committee convened to consider the implications of changing Harvard’s admissions policies noted that Harvard alumni give “generous financial support to their alma mater,” adding: “[T]he committee is concerned that eliminating any consideration of whether an applicant’s parent attended Harvard or Radcliffe would diminish this vital sense of engagement and support.”

Matt McGann, director of admissions at Amherst, says officials contemplated ending legacy admissions for two years before pulling the trigger. “We did look at it from a lot of angles and thought about what kind of reaction we might see from alumni and alumnae of the college,” he says. They consulted the available research on whether making the change would impact donations and said the results are mixed: some studies found a correlation, some didn’t. 

At Amherst, the decision was part of a larger push “to try to make our education and admission more equitable,” McGann says. And while he acknowledges that “there were some alums who were disappointed. I think there were some who felt that, perhaps, it was some retreat from the idea of intergenerational community that we tried to build,” McGann adds there has been no “uniform reaction… many of our alums were elated that Amherst was taking a leadership role in equity and access.” 


And as it relates specifically to fundraising, McGann said, two years on, he doesn’t believe it has made much of an impact: “I don’t think our trends on donations are meaningfully different than our peer schools that didn’t make that change.”

If Amherst, with an endowment of $3 billion can make the change; one imagines Harvard, with its $50 billion nest egg — the largest endowment of any school in the United States — can afford to as well.

Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/affirmative-action-havard-legacy-admissions-1234804837/

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