WASHINGTON (AP) — The next big battle for college admissions has already begun, and it’s centered on another type of minority group that’s getting a boost: the children of alumni.
In the wake of one Supreme Court decision With the introduction of affirmative action on admissions, colleges are coming under renewed pressure to end the old preference — the practice of favoring applicants with family ties to alumni. Long seen as a benefit to the white and wealthy, opponents say it is no longer sustainable in a world where there is no counterbalance to positive action.
President Joe Biden suggested that colleges should reconsider this practice According to the court’s ruling, legacy preferences “extend privilege rather than opportunity.” Several Congressional Democrats called for an end to this policy in light of the court’s decision to remove race from the licensing process. So have Republicans, including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is running for the GOP’s presidential nomination.
“To be clear, there is still affirmative action for whites. It’s called legacy admissions,” California Democrat Barbara Lee said on Twitter.
For critics of outdated approvals, the renewed debate over regulatory equity offers an opportunity to win public opinion on their cause.
As colleges across the US reaffirm their commitment to diversity in the wake of the court ruling, activists have a simple answer: Prove it. If schools want to enroll more Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students, campaigners say eliminating outdated preferences would be an easy first step.
“More than ever, there is no justification for continuing this process,” said Viet Nguyen, a Brown and Harvard graduate and director of Ed Mobilizer, a nonprofit that has been fighting antiquated preferences since 2018. “No other country in the world does this.” Legacy attitudes. Now is the chance to catch up with the rest of the world.”
Nguyen’s group is using the Supreme Court decision as a catalyst, calling on graduates from the best colleges to urge their alma maters to end the practice. The goal is to get graduates from the 30 schools to withhold donations until the end of the policy. Schools include Harvard and the University of North Carolina, which were the focus of the court case, as well as the rest of the Ivy League and the University of Southern California.
It builds on other efforts aimed at practice. Colorado banned it at public universities in 2021, and lawmakers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York have introduced similar bills. In Congress, New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, are passing legislation that would ban it at all universities that accept federal funds.
“Legacy preferences have become an easy target after a Supreme Court decision that depended on merit issues in the college application process,” said Julie Park, a college admissions and racial justice researcher at the University of Maryland. Rather than stepping in on their own, she said, old students just “stand on their parents’ shoulders.”
“It’s just a low-hanging fruit,” she said. “People want to do something and there are good reasons to get rid of it.”
Minister Miguel Cardona urged colleges “to ask themselves the tough questions,” adding that legacy accreditations and other types of special treatment “have long denied well-qualified students of all backgrounds a level playing field.”
“In the wake of this ruling, they could tip the scales against students who are already in trouble,” Cardona said in a statement to The Associated Press.
In the blurry world of college admissions, it’s unclear exactly which schools are providing a discount boost and how much it’s helping. In California, where schools are required by law to disclose this practice, USC reported that 14% of students admitted last year had family ties to alumni or donors. Stanford reported a similar rate.
At Harvard, which released years of records as part of the lawsuit that ended in the Supreme Court, seniors were eight times more likely to be admitted, and nearly 70% were white, researchers found.
An Associated Press poll of the country’s most selective colleges Last year it was found that the proportion of old students in the freshman year ranged from 4% to 23%. At four schools—Notre Dame, USC, Cornell, and Dartmouth—older students outnumbered black students.
Supporters of the policy say it builds an alumni community and encourages donations. A 2022 study at an unnamed Northeast college found that old students were more likely to donate, but at the expense of diversity — the vast majority were white.
Some reputable colleges have abandoned this policy in recent years, including Amherst College and Johns Hopkins University. In the first year after the abolition, Amherst saw the proportion of seniors in the freshman class drop by about half, while 19% of freshman students were the first in their families to attend college, the highest in the school’s history.
Some colleges argue that the benefits of legacy status will expand to more students of color as their student body becomes more racially diverse. Opponents argue that white families still have an advantage because generations of relatives have access to any college.
Ivory Toldson attended college at Louisiana State University, but that wasn’t an option for his parents at Jim Crow South.
“My parents couldn’t legally go to LSU. Discrimination is much younger in our history than many people seem to realize,” said Toldson, a Howard University professor and the NAACP’s director of education, innovation and research.
Toldson said there is a growing awareness of the irony that preferences for athletes and older students are still allowed while racial issues must be ignored.
In May a AP-NORC survey found that few Americans believe legacy admissions or donations should play a large role in college admissions. Only 9% say that having a family member present should be very important and 18% say it should be of some importance. Likewise, only 10% say donations to the school should be very important and 17% say it should be fairly important.
The same poll found that most Americans support affirmative action in higher education but believe that race should be a secondary consideration. 63 percent thought the Supreme Court shouldn’t prevent colleges from considering race in admissions, but 68 percent didn’t think it should be an important factor.
Several colleges, including Cornell and the University of Notre Dame, declined to say whether they will continue to support junior students next year.
Meanwhile, Nguyen said he was more optimistic than ever. In the past, colleges have been reluctant to be among the first to make the change, he said. Now he thinks that’s changing.
“I think there’s actually going to be some ambiguity over the next few months as to who’s going to be last,” he said. “No university wants to be the last.”
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