Students, alumni challenge legacy preference at top colleges

  • FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017 file photo, Viet Nguyen poses for a portrait on the Brown University campus in Providence, R.I. Nguyen, now an alumnus, helped lead an effort urging Brown and other elite universities to rethink their legacy admissions policies. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Steven Senne

  • FILE - In this April 29, 2015 file photo, students sit on the steps of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library next to Daniel Chester French's sculpture, Alma Mater, on the school's campus in New York. A new coalition of students and alumni from 11 top U.S. colleges, including Columbia, are asking their schools in 2018 to rethink legacy admissions policies. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) Mark Lennihan

Associated Press
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

BOSTON — Students and alumni at some of the nation’s top universities are urging their schools to reconsider admissions policies that give an edge to relatives of alumni.

Campus groups for first-generation and low-income students at 12 elite universities issued a joint letter Wednesday asking their schools to review the impact of so-called legacy admissions policies through proposed campus panels that would include students and alumni. The coalition also called on their schools to publicize policies and data on the topic.

“This campaign is not about whether or not legacy applicants like our future children deserve their place in their respective universities,” the group wrote. “It is about ensuring that all students have equal footing in the admissions process regardless of whether or not their parents attended a certain university.”

Although most colleges closely guard the weight they give to legacy status, data released by some Ivy League universities show that relatives of alumni are admitted at far higher rates than the overall applicant pool.

The letter is signed by student groups at Harvard, Brown, Yale and all other Ivy League schools except Dartmouth College, which does not have a campus group for first-generation students, the coalition says. Others in the group come from prestigious private schools including Amherst College and the University of Chicago.

While students in the coalition acknowledge they could benefit from the practice — and some said they felt conflicted about challenging it — they argue that ending legacy preferences would give more low-income and first-generation students a shot at attending prestigious schools.

“No matter how hard you work, you can’t make yourself a legacy. No amount of SAT studying could make up for that,” said Alfredo Dominguez, a 20-year-old first-generation Columbia student and a member of the coalition. “They do actively try to admit students from diverse backgrounds, but this is another step or barrier to getting to a more equitable place.”

Students aren’t immediately asking schools to ban the practice but say they want to start a conversation.