"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 10, 2011

Legacy Applicants 7 Times More Likely to Get Into Elite Colleges

sDespite the dissembling and the public relations spinning by America's elite colleges and universities, we have known for a long time that a student applicant to Harvard has a massive advantage toward getting in if a Winthrop or Caitlin has a parent who went to Harvard.  Yes, that's right--knowledge is power, and power gets the knowledge.  A recent dissertation study now documents that advantage.  From the Times:
A new study of admissions at 30 highly selective colleges found that legacy applicants get a big advantage over those with no family connections to the institution — but the benefit is far greater for those with a parent who earned an undergraduate degree at the college than for those with other family connections.

According to the study, by Michael Hurwitz, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, applicants to a parent’s alma mater had, on average, seven times the odds of admission of nonlegacy applicants. Those whose parents did graduate work there or who had a grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt who attended the college were, by comparison, only twice as likely to be admitted.

Legacy admissions have become an increasingly touchy issue for colleges. Admissions officers mostly play down the impact of legacy status. But a growing body of research shows that family connections count for a lot — and Mr. Hurwitz’s study found a larger impact than previous studies.

And at a time when admission to elite colleges has become increasingly competitive, critics say the legacy admissions advantage stands as an undemocratic obstacle to social mobility.

“It’s fundamentally unfair because it’s a preference that advantages the already advantaged,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. “It has nothing to do with the individual merit of the applicant.”

Mr. Kahlenberg, the author of “Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions,” said a legal challenge to legacy preferences is becoming likely. Public university preferences could be attacked as unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, he said, while private universities might be vulnerable under an 1866 civil rights statute prohibiting discrimination based on “ancestry.”. . . .

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