Education Organizations Rally Against Legacy Admissions

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On Wednesday, more than 20 education organizations pushed higher education leaders to eliminate legacy admissions in an open letter addressed to college and university presidents and board of trustees.

Legacy admissions give preferential treatment to applicants who are children or grandchildren of alumni, and according to the education groups, it is an “unprincipled” practice “rooted in a history of ugly discrimination.”

“To be clear, there is no good reason for maintaining the legacy preference in admissions. It does not promote diversity, does not reward achievement, and is inefficient at best as a fundraising tool,” the letter states.

The organizations advocating against legacy preference include the Center for American Progress, Education Trust, Education Reform Now, 1000 Women Strong, Third Way, Hildreth Institute, and more. The groups argue that by eliminating “unfair” admission preferences, institutions are showing a commitment to diversity and socioeconomic mobility.

Legacy admissions came about at prestigious colleges and universities during the 1920s and 1930s “as a way to limit the enrollment of Jewish immigrants whose qualifications outstripped those from long-standing well-to-do families that Ivy League colleges preferred to see on campus,” according to the letter.

“To this day, the legacy preference continues to favor wealthy, [W]hite families that have lived in America for generations and benefited from past racial segregation and discriminatory policies,” the letter states.

Many schools have eliminated the use of legacy admissions. Among them are Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California system, and most recently, Amherst College. In May, Colorado became the first state to pass legislation banning legacy admissions at all public higher education institutions.

The advocates found that eradicating legacy admission preference does not affect fundraising, donation, and gift value at colleges and universities.

“Low-income, racial minority, and first generation students, who need college degrees now more than ever have enough disadvantages in the college admissions process,” the letter states. “Now is the time for all universities to remove at least one of these barriers.”