Many supporters of President Donald Trump rejoiced at the Department of Justice’s threats on colleges and universities that use race-based affirmative action as a decision factor. The Washington Post reported the Civil Rights Office is hiring lawyers to examine affirmative action policies for potential lawsuits. Meritocracy advocates, often white conservatives, are being hypocritical for supporting the administration’s actions since it leaves one type of affirmative action untouched: legacy admissions.
Legacy admissions give tremendous advantage to the families of people who have already attended that school. This is especially true of the wealthy.
“The number one indicator of whether you’ll donate to a school is if two generations of your family went to that school,” said former MSNBC host Cenk Uygur. Given the current distribution of wealth, many of these privileged families are White.
A 2015 Kaplan Test Prep survey revealed the staggering effect. Twenty-five percent of college admissions officers said they felt “pressured” into accepting underqualified, but connected applicants. Another 16 percent confirmed that legacy applicants have an advantage.
At Stanford, the percent of admitted legacy applicants is “roughly three times” the overall acceptance rate, wrote alumnus Ivan Maisel. Though the university usually takes one look at an application, “thanks, Mom and Dad—every legacy application still gets two sets of eyes.”
A more toxic version of this is the case of Jared Kushner. According to ThinkProgress, he was admitted to Harvard University after his real-estate mogul father, Charles Kushner, promised a $2.5 million donation. One of Kushner’s high school administrators was dumbfounded: “There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard.”
Those types of legacy admissions prey on a university’s biggest need: funding. TIME Magazine reported that colleges that have need-blind policies are not “wealth-blind”. The problem is also present in public institutions such as University of Illinois and University of Texas at Austin, which accepted several applicants from influential families.
Top private colleges like Duke University save admissions spots for “development admits”, who are less qualified, to attract potential donors, journalist Daniel Golden wrote in the Wall Street Journal. He details the power of wealth in his 2006 book The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.
This is a reminder that college is a business. Legacy admissions only give those who are already privileged — higher socioeconomic status plus educated parents — an even greater chance of opportunity for the sake of bigger endowments. If meritocracy advocates are sincere about having an equal playing field, we need to end putting our thumb on the scale for the rich before targeting the disadvantaged.