Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Elite Colleges, or Colleges for the Elite?

My wife and I both benefitted from legacies, as will our children, but despite our self interest, I think it's wrong and un-American, and should be banned:

TODAY'S populist moment, with a growing anger directed at the elites who manipulate the system to their advantage, is an opportune time to examine higher education's biggest affirmative action program — for the children of alumni.

At our top universities, so-called legacy preferences affect larger numbers of students than traditional affirmative action programs for minority students, yet they have received a small fraction of the attention. Unlike the issue of racial preferences, advantages for alumni children — who are overwhelmingly white and wealthy — have been the subject of little scholarship, no state voter initiatives and no Supreme Court decisions.

Among selective research universities, public and private, almost three-quarters employ legacy preferences, as do the vast majority of selective liberal arts colleges. Some admissions departments insist they are used only as tie-breakers among deserving applicants. But studies have shown that being the child of an alumnus adds the equivalent of 160 SAT points to one's application (using the traditional 400-to-1600-point scale, and not factoring in the new writing section of the test) and increases one's chances of admission by almost 20 percentage points.

At many selective schools, legacies make up 10 percent to 25 percent of the student population. By contrast, at the California Institute of Technology, which has no legacy preferences, only 1.5 percent of students are the children of alumni.

…Congress should outlaw alumni preferences at all universities and colleges receiving federal financing, just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws racial discrimination at them. Or lawmakers could limit the tax deductibility of alumni donations at institutions that favor legacy children on the principle that tax-deductible donations are not supposed to enrich the giver. If legislators don't act, it will fall to lawyers to bring suit to enforce the 14th Amendment and the 1866 Civil Rights Act and put an end to this form of discrimination in higher education.


September 29, 2010

Elite Colleges, or Colleges for the Elite?



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