Abolishing 'Legacy' College Admissions Will Hurt Non-Legacies Most
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Ahead of takeoff on a recent flight, I overheard a nearby passenger telling his child “make good decisions today.” What great advice. Right to the point. Good decisions associate with good life outcomes. A rich man once told me he was poor until he stopped making bad decisions.

Good and bad decisions come to mind as certain colleges and universities start to abolish “legacy admissions.” The University of Virginia is the latest school to do it. And that’s too bad.

To which some will no doubt say that while banning legacy admissions is bad for the legacies, it’s good for the non-legacy applicants whose parents are perhaps not as well educated. Actually, it’s most unfortunate for the non-legacies.

How we know this can be found in the lengths parents go to in pre-school, grade school and high school to get their kids into the public or private schools most dense with the children of the well-to-do. As opposed to children of privilege and/or exclusively educated parentage exhibiting bad behavior, habits and decisions most associated with bad outcomes, they clearly exhibit the opposite as evidenced by where those of lesser economic means try to place their kids. It’s a sign that the offspring of the well-to-do more often than not bring the good values of their parents into the classroom, and in ways that enhance the educational experience for everyone.

While college can’t prepare us for an economic future that is much more than opaque, we can still be improved by college. One of the best ways to improve oneself at college is through a creation of a network while there thanks to individuals sat next to in class, or met socially while there. More than most will admit out loud, the greatest value of a college education can be found in the future in the form of wives, husbands, colleagues, employees, advisors, sounding boards, investors, etc.

Think of this with legacy admissions in mind. The latter frequently implies that the legacies are the offspring of well-to-do alums. If so, great. For one, successful alums are logically more eager to hire from the schools that they’re still very well associated with. Furthermore, if colleges go to great lengths to court well-to-do alums, every matriculate gains as money flows into the school for better professors, resources, and yes, scholarship funds. Why would any school make a point of not giving preferential treatment to those with the means to most improve the school?

Next, think of what it means for the school to have the kids of the accomplished on campus. The successful yet again frequently get that way via good decisions. How then, could a university be weakened by the arrival of the offspring of those who made and make good decisions?

Some will no doubt say that the apple sometimes falls far from the proverbial tree with legacies, and while true, the bet here is that the apple frequently lands close by. If this is doubted, think yet again of the sacrifices frequently poorer parents make to live in school districts that are well-to-do, or breaking the bank to pay for private schools populated with well-to-do kids.  

From there, can’t it at least be argued that the apple falls closer to the tree just as often with those who aren’t accomplished, and whose lack of accomplishment is sometimes a function of bad values and decisions? Put another way, is it beyond the pale to suggest that the poor decisions that frequently associate with bad economic outcomes are similarly passed down?

And what of the non-legacy students who strive to not be like their parents? If the point is that legacy kids take spots of the relatively disadvantaged, then the latter implies that non-legacy kids win admission by exceeding the accomplishments of their own parents.

Ok, but if you’re a non-legacy matriculate, don’t you want to attend school alongside the children of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other wildly accomplished alums? Isn’t a major point of college yet again the creation of a network?

Which of course raises the question of why the desire to abolish legacy admissions? How is it that non-legacy students gain if they’re perhaps no longer sitting next to in class or socializing with the offspring of accomplished alums?

Lost in all of the self-righteous chest-beating from left and right about how colleges and universities should choose students is that college is much less about the learning than either side would like to admit. Which is kind of a statement of the obvious, particularly in a dynamic country like the United States where the nature of work is changing all the time.

Notable about the tired and hungry from around the world who routinely risk their lives to get to the U.S., once here they generally migrate to the richest cities. Well, yes. That’s where the opportunity is. The view here is that opportunity is similarly greatest educationally where the offspring of the well-to-do are. In abolishing legacy admissions, the bet here is that non-legacies will be hurt the most.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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