Watch CBSN Live

Why College Admission Legacies are a Crock

Should teenagers whose mommy or daddy went to Harvard, Princeton, Yale or some other elite Princeton University archwayschools leap frog over other applicants because they hold the college admission legacy card?

For nearly all Americans, that's a softball question. I'd like to think that they'd agree that colleges and universities who favor legacies should be ashamed of this practice. That's all this country needs is more privileged white teenagers sashaying into schools that hardworking teenagers, who live in the wrong zip codes, can only dream about.

A new book, Affirmative Action for the Rich, provides a devastating look at the ingrained and shameful legacy admission practices at many of the nation's elite schools. Children of alumni often make up 10% to 25% of the student body at elite colleges and universities. That means that Princeton's acceptance rate of 10%, for instance, is really much lower for teenagers with the wrong bloodlines.

The apologists for legacy admissions argue that Ivy League institutions and other elite schools need legacies because it makes it easier to shake down wealthy alumni for donations.

However, that belief, according to Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and editor of Affirmative Action for the Rich, is absolute nonsense. A study that examined the giving practices of the 100 top national universities (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) from 1998 to 2007 found zero evidence that legacy favoritism boosts alumni giving. What's more, elite institutions that don't give legacy applicants a break have healthy endowments including California Institute of Technology, Cooper Union and little Berea College in Kentucky, which has an endowment that exceeds many hoity toity colleges.

More Reasons to Stop College Admission Legacies

Here are some other disturbing facts about legacies:

Legacy admissions are an American phenomenon. They are virtually unknown in the rest of the world.

Universities began favoring legacies after World War I when immigrants, and especially Jews, began applying to selective colleges.

Some lawyers have argued that legacy policies violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. What I'd love to see is some bright kid from a place like Gary, IN, or Waco, TX, challenge legacy practices in court.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Legacy admission by _Gene_. CC 2.0.