find that attending a selective college can be a life-changing event for low-income students, catapulting them onto a different economic trajectory. Filling up seats with legacy admittees is not a victimless crime.
For conservatives, this is about
hypocritical college leaders
(who talk endlessly about equity) stacking the deck for the privileged and connected. Legacy admissions allow rent-seeking college officials to sell fast-passes to good jobs and graduate school, pocketing dollars that subsidize their agenda-driven programming and bloated bureaucracies. The result makes it harder for less prestigious regional colleges or entrepreneurial start-ups to raise funds, while encouraging alumni to steer contributions to deep-pocketed institutions.
To add insult to injury, legacy preferences further offend both liberal and conservative sensibilities by requiring taxpayers to subsidize this corrupt system. When a wealthy alum donates money to a school in order to boost the chances of their child being admitted, they can
, leaving other taxpayers on the hook for covering half or more of the total bill.
So, how do legacy preferences survive? In part, colleges have done a good job of propagating the
claim that legacy preferences raise funds that are used to aid low income students (as opposed to underwriting administrative salaries, modish business schools, and extravagant facilities). (And, if elite institutions were truly worried about their low-income students, they could dip into their endowments.)
But the truth is that the survival of this anachronistic practice is a classic example of interest groups politics at work. A 2022 Pew Research
poll found
that 75% of Americans oppose legacy preferences. But an ardent minority of college officials and alumni groups love them (the former because it gives them an important carrot they can wave at alumni and the latter for the advantages they confer on their kids), and the higher education lobby has stymied even modest efforts to advance reform.
Civil rights groups, locked arm-in-arm with universities in a fight to defend racial affirmative action, have avoided a rift by staying silent on legacy preference policies.
That will no longer be the case if the U.S. Supreme Court upends racial preferences later this year, as
they dropped
legacy preferences as well.
If there are colleges or universities which refuse to follow suit, Congress should act to pass a version of Fair College Admissions for Students Act now and cut off federal funding for research and scholarships for any institution that uses legacy preferences. Whats more, Congress should direct the IRS to enforce existing regulations to no longer permit alumni to deduct donations to colleges which use legacy preferences. To be tax deductible, gifts should not enrich the donor.
The measure of an educational institution committed to equality of opportunity is not its ability to curate a privileged student body. It is, however, dependent on its commitment to welcoming all who have earned their spot. Legacy admissions could not be more antithetical to those goals. All those college presidents who like to lecture the nation about its shortcomings must, in their bones, recognize that legacy admissions is as hypocritical as it is destructive.