Liberal Hypocrisy in College Admissions?

The legacy system is affirmative action for the privileged.

We progressives hail opportunity, egalitarianism and diversity. Yet here’s our dirty little secret: Some of our most liberal bastions in America rely on a system of inherited privilege that benefits rich whites at the expense of almost everyone else.

I’m talking about “legacy preferences” that elite universities give to children of graduates. These universities constitute some of the world’s greatest public goods, but they rig admissions to favor applicants who already have had every privilege in life.

.. Most of the best universities in America systematically discriminate in favor of affluent, privileged alumni children. If that isn’t enough to get your kids accepted, donate $5 million to the university, and they’ll get a second look.

.. Reeves noted the irony that in Europe and most of the rest of the world, there is no such explicit system of legacy preferences, yet in supposedly egalitarian America it is formal and systematic.

.. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical that institutions so associated with liberalism should embrace a hereditary aristocratic structure? Ah, never underestimate the power of self-interest to shape people’s views. As Reeves put it dryly: “American liberalism tends to diminish as the issues get closer to home.”

.. having a parent graduate increased the chance of admission at 30 top colleges by 45 percentage points. For example, a candidate who otherwise had a 20 percent shot became a 65 percent prospect with a parent who had graduated from that school.

.. Earlier, a 2004 Princeton study estimated that legacy at top schools was worth an additional 160 points on an SAT, out of 1600 points.

Legacy preferences apparently were introduced in America in the early 1900s as a way to keep out Jewish students. To their credit, some American universities, including M.I.T. — not to mention Oxford and Cambridge in Britain — don’t give a legacy preference.

The top universities say that legacy preferences help create a multigenerational community of alumni, and that’s a legitimate argument. They also note that rewarding donors helps encourage donations that can be used to finance scholarships for needy kids.

Yet on balance, I’m troubled that some of America’s greatest institutions grant a transformative opportunity disproportionately to kids already steeped in advantage, from violin lessons to chess tournaments to SAT coaching. On top of that, letting wealthy families pay for extra consideration feels, to use a technical term, yucky.

Liberals object to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing tycoons to buy political influence, so why allow tycoons to buy influence in college admissions?

How Much Does Being a Legacy Help Your College Admissions Odds?

As Harvard, Notre Dame, Georgetown and others pledge to increase diversity, admitting the children of alumni at higher rates complicates their efforts

Top colleges have pledged to become more socioeconomically diverse, but the admissions edge many give to children of alumni may make that goal harder to achieve.

.. At the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, the admission rate for legacies is about double the rate for the overall applicant pool, according to data from the schools. At Princeton University, legacies are admitted at four times the general rate, or roughly 30% compared with about 7% overall over the past five years, the school says.

Legacy applicants at Harvard University were five times as likely to be admitted as non-legacies, according to an analysis of admissions data from 2010 through 2015. The numbers—33.6% for legacies and 5.9% for those without parental ties—were submitted in a June court filing for a case claiming Asian students are being discriminated against in the name of greater diversity at the school.

..  Diversity initiatives have led to complaints by white students that minority students have a leg up. Meanwhile, highly qualified Asian students say they should get more slots based on academics. Both say long-standing traditions like legacy admissions soak up coveted spots.

Advocates for considering legacy status argue that favoring the children—and, in some cases, grandchildren—of graduates helps maintain an engaged and generous alumni base and lets students serve as ambassadors to new campus arrivals.

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack has said legacy admissions help perpetuate “a Cornell family that goes on for generations.” In an interview with the student newspaper in May, she said the practice isn’t about giving preference or an advantage to legacies, but such a designation is one of many “balancing factors.”

.. “I really don’t see how our best universities can continue to justify this practice,” said William Dudley, Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, in an October speech. “Such an approach only preserves the status quo and constrains economic mobility.”

A handful of elite schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, don’t consider legacy status in admissions.

.. calling for a dozen schools, including Brown University, Duke University, Swarthmore College and Emory University, to review their legacy admission policies.
.. Legacy preferences, which historians say were originally developed to keep Jewish students from prestigious colleges in the early 1900s, generally benefit applicants who are wealthy and white
.. Calling legacy admissions a “classist, racist institution,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Reeves said, “There is an inescapable hypocrisy of an institution saying, ‘We are going to be open and meritocratic,’ and maintaining a hereditary privilege.”
.. Legacies made up roughly 5% of the applicant pool and 15% of this fall’s entering class at the University of Virginia.
.. “ ‘Special consideration’ refers to the longstanding practice of the dean of admissions and his staff carefully reviewing applicants whose parents or grandparents are alumni before final decisions are made
.. say much of the differential in admission rates can be explained by legacy applicants’ higher academic credentials and cultural fit. They say legacies also enroll at higher rates than other accepted students.

The Top 20 Percent Are the Real ‘Hoarders’ of Wealth

Richard Reeves. In his new book, Dream Hoarders, Reeves argues that the upper middle class, or the top 20 percent, is “hoarding” the American Dream.

.. Reeves first points to unequal development of human capital.

By unequal development of human capital, Reeves is talking about parenting and education. Upper middle class parents are more likely to be married, and they’re more likely to plan their pregnancies. A study at the Columbia School of Social Work found that parenting behavior, namely maternal warmth and sensitivity, to be the most important factor of the gap between upper middle class children and bottom-income quintile children. In other words, parenting behavior is more important than maternal education, family size, and race.

Furthermore, upper middle class children generally live in neighborhoods with high-performing public schools, or they attend posh private schools. Upper middle class parents can hire college admissions consultants for upwards of $5,000 to guarantee that their children attend a selective college. Not to mention that most upper middle class parents have often gone through the college admissions process themselves and can help their children succeed.

.. In order to give all children the chance to succeed, Reeves suggest that we

  • curb exclusionary zoning, especially density requirements that prevent multi-family homes from being built in wealthy areas;
  • end legacy admissions at the top colleges in America that inevitably give preference to upper middle class children; and
  • open up internships by increasing regulatory oversight and extending student financial aid to cover summertime opportunities.

.. while Absolute mobility is concerned with whether incomes increase or decrease. Over time, everyone can be better off as the economy grows. Why do we need downward mobility from the top? If everyone’s standards of living are rising, why do we need to be concerned with class status?

..  “increasing the number of smart, poor kids making it to the top of the labor market is likely to mean an improvement in quality and therefore productivity.” Upper middle class people are top influencers in society; they are politicians, pundits, broadcast journalists, and financial analysts. These people should be the most talented people in society, not just the ones lucky enough to be born to rich parents because that is best for the economy. To give one of many examples, a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that fund managers from low-income backgrounds perform better than those from upper middle class backgrounds.

Black people aren’t keeping white Americans out of college. Rich people are.

What better time to change the conversation and re-energize the base? And what better way than by raising the lightning rod that is affirmative action?

.. Justice Department officials attempted to play down the initiative after the story broke, stating that they planned to investigate a single complaint involving Asian American applicants, not whites. But it barely mattered. The message was sent.

.. Affirmative action is a consistent hobbyhorse on the right because it combines real anxieties with compelling falsehoods.
.. At 38 top colleges in the United States, more students come from the top 1 percent of income earners than from the bottom 60 percent. Really leveling the admissions playing field, assuming the Trump administration actually cares about doing so, would involve much broader efforts to redistribute wealth and power. A focus on fringe campaigns against affirmative action suggests it does not.
.. Addressing inequalities in K-12 education, for instance, could help at-risk students of all races increase their chances of attending a top college
.. Pressing universities to drop legacy preferences, following the example of other elite schools such as the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, could free up spots for those without that built-in advantage. Trump’s own wealthy-parent-sponsored education at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by the subsequent admission of three of his four adult children, makes that particular initiative seem unlikely.
.. the Trump Justice Department’s proposed attack on affirmative action is a microcosm of how the president won the 2016 election and continues to maintain a base of support.
First, Trump taps into a mainstream concern, one tied to how America’s economic system is changing and how some individuals are left at the margin:
  • Employment?
  • Immigration?
  • College?
  • Take your pick.
Then, instead of addressing the issue in a way that embraces both its complexity and well-established research, officials opt for simplistic talking points known to inflame an already agitated base: Immigrants are sneaking into the country and stealing your jobs! Minorities are pushing you out of college!

.. The Trump administration assumes that picking race-focused fights is the most successful way to distract from its failures and to pander to a grievance-inspired base. The level of support for this latest attempt may prove it right.

The Hoarding of the American Dream

the top quintile of earners—those making more than roughly $112,000 a year—have been big beneficiaries of the country’s growth. To make matters worse, this group of Americans engages in a variety of practices that don’t just help their families, but harm the other 80 percent of Americans.

.. if we are serious about narrowing the gap between ‘the rich’ and everybody else, we need a broader conception of what it means to be rich.

the upper-middle class has pulled away from the middle class and the poor on five dimensions:

  1. income and wealth,
  2. educational attainment,
  3. family structure,
  4. geography, and
  5. health and longevity

.. They dominate the country’s top colleges, sequester themselves in wealthy neighborhoods with excellent public schools and public services, and enjoy healthy bodies and long lives.

They then pass those advantages onto their children, with parents placing a “glass floor” under their kids.

  • They ensure they grow up in nice zip codes,
  • provide social connections that make a difference when entering the labor force,
  • help with internships,
  • aid with tuition and home-buying, and
  • schmooze with college admissions officers.

All the while, they support policies and practices that protect their economic position and prevent poorer kids from climbing the income ladder:

  • legacy admissions,
  • the preferential tax treatment of investment income,
  • 529 college savings plans,
  • exclusionary zoning,
  • occupational licensing, and
  • restrictions on the immigration of white-collar professionals.

.. As a result, America is becoming a class-based society, more like fin-de-siècle England than most would care to admit, Reeves argues. Higher income kids stay up at the sticky top of the income distribution. Lower income kids stay down at the bottom. The one percent have well and truly trounced the 99 percent, but the 20 percent have done their part to immiserate the 80 percent, as well

Reeves offers a host of policy changes that might make a considerable difference:

  1. better access to contraception,
  2. increasing building in cities and suburbs,
  3. barring legacy admissions to colleges,
  4. curbing tax expenditures that benefit families with big homes and capital gains.

.. Expanding opportunity and improving fairness would require the upper-middle class to vote for higher taxes, to let others move in, and to share in the wealth.

.. Prying Harvard admission letters and the mortgage interest deductions out of the hands of bureaucrats in Bethesda, sales executives in Minnetonka, and lawyers in Louisville is not going to be easy.