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There are 11 comments on POV: When the Real Scandal Is the College Admission Process Itself

  1. How are those who rely on preferences based on their family’s wealth and connections the true beneficiaries of affirmative action? I understand the argument that legacy status holds too much power in the admissions process but a race based affirmative action plan wouldn’t make a difference unless the legacy applicant was an underrepresented minority.

    1. Dave, I believe the reference to ‘affirmative action’ is intended as a challenge to the conventional meaning of the term. e.g., the privilege of wealth (and wealth as a historic function of race) is an insidious under-recognized form of affirmative action, more potent than (the often criticized) affirmative action for women and PoC.

  2. Statistically, students whose parents attended the same institution are more likely to make it through to graduation from that institution. Universities favor students who are likely to graduate, because attrition and dropout makes the university look bad on various metrics. For this reason, a parent having attended is a positive aspect. Raul Fernandez, if legacy preference is eliminated, universities will be ignoring this important predictor of college completion. What is your opinion about this?

    1. If I may ask, what is your source for this? I was able to find a study supporting the claim that students whose parents have undergraduate degrees are more likely to complete an undergraduate course of study than first-generation students [], but I can’t seem to find anything to indicate that attending the same institution as one’s parents affects these outcomes. I don’t doubt that the research exists if you say it does, I’d just be curious to know the study methodology, controls, effect size, etc.

    2. Catherine, thanks for your question. Statistically, wealth and whiteness are highly predictive of college completion. However, I don’t take that as evidence that we should be focused on admitting mostly wealthy white students. Doing that, and admitting more legacies, might increase our rankings, sure, but at what cost?

      Instead of cherry-picking students who are most-likely to succeed as a means to improve our brand, we should instead focus on being an engine of social change, lifting up those brilliant first-generation students, immigrants, students of color, students with disabilities, and so many others who have already shown promise in spite of having the deck stacked against them.

      As Larry Bacow indicated when talking about legacies, those kids are gonna be alright.

      More data on the connection between wealth and college completion here:

  3. Thanks for the essay. I think you have it right. I hope the scandal about parents paying to open the secret and illegitimate “side door” of admission to universities for their children would also highlight the “back door” that has always been open to the wealthy who make large gifts to the university and to “legacies” — and bring an end to the back door admission policies. Unfortunately there seems to be no groundswell to eliminate the back door. I think there is too much money and connections keeping it open.

    I attended an “elite” law school, where I met prep school students for the first time and probably some legacies. I learned that my law school did indeed have a back door through which it admitted legacies and those whose parents were able to shower large amounts of cash on the university. What’s interesting is that the back door entrants simply blended in with most of the class. We were never able to tell which of the wealthy and connected got in through the back door and who got in through the front door with the rest of us. There were rumors, based mostly on how people were doing in class.

  4. Important piece, Raul – great job. I was incredulous when one of the news station’s anchor said: “We’re not talking about someone’s parents donating money or a building to the school to give their kid a better chance at admission, we’re talking about paying to alter test scores or for fake athlete recruiting.” I looked at my hubs and said -“How can he think EITHER is ok?! Isn’t bribery, still bribery? So, if it’s out in the open, it’s ok?” – It’s so unfair and even the anchor was showing his privilege by his thoughtless statement. I’m glad you had a lot more to say and so well articulated here. Appreciate you making this important point so well. Thanks again!

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