Amherst drops legacy admissions. Others schools should, too

Tilting college admission to students of alumni — ahead of those who excel academically — a great disservice



November 18, 2021 - 10:32 AM

University of Kansas/Flickr

Many selective colleges and universities across the United States give an edge to the children of alumni in the admissions process. This practice of legacy admissions — dating back a century to when elite institutions sought to protect White, upper-class students from being displaced as Jewish and Catholic students began to apply in greater numbers — is an unmistakable contradiction in American higher education. How can schools boast about their student bodies being the best and the brightest when their admission policies are not about merit alone but are tilted to favor students privileged by the circumstances of their birth?

That clear conflict was acknowledged by Amherst College in announcing that it would no longer give children of alumni an advantage in the admissions process. “Now is the time to end this historic program that inadvertently limits educational opportunity by granting a preference to those whose parents are graduates of the college,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin. About 11 percent of students admitted in recent years to the liberal arts college in Massachusetts have been children of people who graduated from the college. Jettisoning legacy admission, officials said, will create a fairer admissions system and help to promote diversity.

Good for Amherst. It joins a small but growing number of colleges: Johns Hopkins University last year disclosed that it had without fanfare phased out legacy admissions, and Colorado lawmakers banned the practice at all public universities and colleges in the state. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has never employed the practice. “If you got into MIT, it’s because you got into MIT. Simple as that,” an admissions officer at the school wrote bluntly in a 2012 blog post.

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