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Kahlenberg and Co. Discuss Legacy Preference in College Admissions

September 22, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

I used to hate Hate HATE when my brother was allowed to do something and I wasn’t because he was a boy and I was a girl. I’d stomp and sigh and eventually find something better to do but the sting of that bias stuck with me for a while. I (and I’m sure my parents) would shudder to think of my reaction had I been denied admission to the college of my choice when another candidate got in based on any other reason than merit.

Though college officials claim their preference toward alumni children is modest at best, a new book states the opposite. In Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, editor Richard D. Kahlenberg calls for a reexamination and elimination of alumni preferences now; as an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, Kahlenberg also argues that with the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift he predicts will spread), existing biases make it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” One section of the book, which is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers, even details how much the advantage of being an alumni child has increased in the last 20 years (Princeton admitted 41.7 percent of legacy applicants in 2009 – 4.5 times the rate for non-legacies – while the legacy admit rate was only 2.8 times the rate in 1992) though they are typically are “average” academically and “under-perform” those with similar demographic backgrounds who did not receive alumni admissions preferences; there is also additional assistance for white applicants, athletes and the children of wealthy donors. Inside Higher Ed delves deeper here.

I haven’t read the book so therefore I cannot choose a side just yet, but I have to say the article has me intrigued. Getting into college (not to mention finding the money to pay for it) is competitive enough so why turn it into a steeplechase rather than the marathon it already is?


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