NewsNationalScripps News


Should students gain college admissions due to legacy family names?

What legacy admissions are, and why some schools are eliminating them.
Should students gain college admissions due to legacy family names?
Posted at 1:54 PM, Jul 26, 2023

Should your family name — or the size of your family’s bank account — have any bearing when it comes to elite college admissions? 

That's the newest question in higher education circles after the U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled that the race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina were unlawful, curtailing affirmative action in higher education. 

This week, Harvard is facing yet another investigation on the other end of the spectrum. A federal civil rights complaint challenges Harvard's legacy admissions policy in which children of alumni and donors are given preference. 

The complaint filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights stated that preferences go overwhelmingly to White applicants, and systematically disadvantage applicants of color. The complaint said the practices are discriminatory.  

Legacy admissions is a longstanding practice that has drawn ire as students applying to selective private colleges receive a boost in admissions chances if their parents or grandparents attended the college, especially if they are donors. It helps with fundraising and builds loyalty, colleges say.

But in light of the Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action, some colleges have recently stopped that practice. Wesleyan University last week announced that the school is formally eliminating its legacy admissions policy. The private Connecticut college's President Michael S. Roth said in his statement that there will be no preference for long-standing families with ties to the school.

"We still value the ongoing relationships that come from multi-generational Wesleyan attendance, but there will be no 'bump' in the selection process," Roth said in its statement.

 Other prestigious colleges such as Amherst College and Johns Hopkins University have also ended their legacy policies. And according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania made a slight change to its information page for first-year applicants, phasing out language that legacy applicants should apply Early Decision.

SEE MORE: Ivy Day 2023 a rough one as Harvard, Columbia admit less than 4%

Opponents of legacy admissions argue that the policy is unfair, especially after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in higher education. 

In the civil rights complaint against Harvard, the Department of Education is responding to accusations by liberal groups who say legacy admissions help White and wealthy students while discriminating against Black, Hispanic and Asian applicants.

The end of legacy preferences is gaining support from those who support, as well as those who oppose, affirmative action policies.

"Asian American Coalition of Education believes many favoritism programs used by Harvard and many other elite colleges are immoral and should be illegal," said Mike Zhao, of Orlando, Florida, who is the founder of the organization that opposes affirmative action. "They include favorable treatment of college faculty and staff, alumni and donors. All these programs should be banned."

Nancy Loo, founder of the non-profit Dumpling Diplomacy that aims to ease hunger, thinks legacy preferences should end, even though they could benefit her high school junior son, since Loo and her husband are both graduates of Columbia University. 

"Children of Ivy League alumni already have a huge leg up on the competition by virtue of the privileges that elite education conferred to the parents," Loo said. "Social networks, income, educational privilege and health privilege."

Trending stories at