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Dive Brief:

  • A prominent association representing New York’s private colleges and universities will no longer oppose banning legacy preferences in admissions. 
  • The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, or CICU, said in an email Thursday that while “legacy admission has been an important recruitment tool for some New York colleges, we recognize the public’s perception that the practice also has the effect of expanding privilege instead of opportunity,”
  • CICU’s statement comes as colleges nationwide are reconsidering admissions, including legacy preferences, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that restricted race-conscious policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Dive Insight:

Legacy preferences, in which colleges give a leg up to applicants with family ties to alumni, is a long-standing part of the admissions world. 

It has gained more notoriety, however, as higher ed dissects the fallout of the Supreme Court ruling against race-conscious admissions, which overturned decades of court precedent.

That’s because legacy policies tend to favor White and wealthy students. And pundits say the Supreme Court decision will likely make it even more challenging for marginalized students to be accepted to selective colleges that relied on race to make admissions decisions.

Legacy status can significantly boost applicants’ chances to be admitted. 

Between 2009 and 2015, Harvard applicants whose family members attended the institution were almost six times more likely to secure admission than those without a Harvard relative, court documents revealed.

Money is a factor, too. Colleges expect that legacy students and their families will donate down the road, though these benefits might be exaggerated. A 2010 study of 100 top-ranked institutions found “no statistically significant evidence of a causal relationship between legacy preference policies and total alumni giving.”

Because of the Supreme Court ruling, some colleges and higher ed groups are rethinking legacy admissions. 

CICU had been opposed to a prohibition on legacy admissions, fighting against it this year and last when New York lawmakers introduced legislation to ban it. The bill has been introduced at least twice, but hasn’t gained traction.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and Wesleyan University, a well-known private nonprofit institution in Connecticut, are among those to recently drop legacy preferences.

“We still value the ongoing relationships that come from multi-generational Wesleyan attendance, but there will be no ‘bump’ in the selection process,” Wesleyan President Michael Roth, said in a statement Wednesday. “As has been almost always the case for a long time, family members of alumni will be admitted on their own merits.”