The persistent legacy system

By Laurie Bennett

September 11, 2013 at 8:19am

Salon calls it “the 1 percent’s Ivy League loophole.”

Wealthy alumni make tax-deductible contributions to their almae matres, and their children receive admission preference.

Despite all their protestations of equal opportunity, top colleges cling to the legacy system. Their justification is that it’s a way to encourage giving.

In a 2007 study, the National Bureau of Economic Research traced the pattern.

Researchers found that the presence of children not only increased alumnus giving, but donations dropped off after an admissions decision, with a greater decline if the child was rejected.

Although legacies have dropped precipitously at Yale and other schools, they aren’t likely to disappear any time soon.

In “Affirmative Action for the Rich,” Richard D. Kahlenberg writes:

Ivy League and other top schools typically admit legacies at two to five times their overall rate. As overall admission rates have declined, the power of legacy preference at some elite institutions has increased substantially. For instance, Princeton admitted 41.7 percent of legacy applicants in 2009 — more than 4.5 times the 9.2 percent rate of nonlegacies. That is a far greater disparity than in 1992, when legacy applicants were accepted at 2.8 times the rate of other candidates.

Kahlenberg has called on Congress to outlaw the practice.

A decade ago, conservative author William F. Buckley Jr., a Yale grad, wrote a defense of legacies.

There are tribal instincts in life colleges and universities are part of life, and nobody has proved that any harm whatever has been done by private colleges writing their own admissions policies, as long as they don’t illegally discriminate against anyone, black or white.

The Muckety map above shows some of Yale’s Sterling Fellows - people who have donated $1 million or more to the college. (Fellows are not necessarily parents of Yale alumni; indeed, they don’t have to be alumni themselves.)

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 Read related stories: Colleges · Recent Stories · Top one percent  


  • #1.   Biaknabato 09.11.2013

    Bribery by another name , what else is new ? The only solution to that is not a single penny or cent of tax money for private schools since all of them practice legacy preferences. So no tax money for Brown, Bucknell, Penn, Lehigh, Harvard, Princeton ad infinitum since all of them practice legacy preferences.

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