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Students, alumni challenge legacy preference over colleges

BOSTON – Students and alumni in a part of the nation’s top universities are urging their schools to reconsider the admissions policy, where an edge to the next of kin of the alumni.

Campus groups for the first-generation and low-income students from 12 elite universities, issued in a joint letter Wednesday asking their schools to the effect of the so-called legacy admissions policy by means of the proposed campus panels are also students and alumni. The coalition also called on their schools to raise awareness of the policy and data on the subject.

“This campaign is not about the whether or not of older candidates as our future children, earn their place in their respective universities,” the group wrote. “It is to ensure that all pupils an equal footing in the admissions process, regardless of whether their parents attended a certain university.”

The officials from the 12 schools did not immediately comment on the letter.

Although most colleges closely guard the weight that they give to the heritage status, the data released by some Ivy League universities show that family members of alumni are admitted at much higher rates than the overall applicant pool.

The letter is signed by groups of students at Harvard, Brown, Yale and all other Ivy League schools with the exception of Dartmouth College, not the campus of the group for the first generation of students, the coalition says. Others in the group come from prestigious private schools, including Amherst College and the University of Chicago.

While the students in the coalition acknowledges the practice can benefit from and some said they felt conflict about challenging it — they argue that the termination of the legacy give preference to more low-income and first-generation students a shot at attending prestigious schools.

“It doesn’t matter how hard you work, you can not create a legacy. No amount of SAT studying,” said Alfredo Dominguez, a 20-year-old first-generation of a Columbia student and member of the coalition. “They do actively try to admit students of various backgrounds, but this is again a step or a barrier to obtain a more equal place.”

Students are not immediately ask the schools to put a ban on the practice, but say that they want to start a conversation. The group is opposed to the existing policy, but acknowledges that it is a complicated issue that deserves a thorough review, said Nguyen Viet, a Brown alumnus is leading the effort.

The coalition is adding pressure elite recordings offices at a time that they already re-under the microscope. Harvard, for example, is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice about the role that race plays in admissions after a group of Asian-American students filed a discrimination lawsuit.

Previous studies have shown that the most highly selective private universities provide a benefit for older applicants, but most closely monitors the policy and its impact.

Among the 12 schools by the coalition, only the Princeton University, The Associated Press, the admission rates for older applicants. There, the rate for children of alumni has hovered around 30 percent for the past five years, compared with about 7 percent of all applicants.

Cornell University refused to give acceptance rates, but said that 16 percent of the first year a parent or grandparent who were present. The share of the University of Pennsylvania, with 14 percent.

Schools defend the practice, saying it encourages alumni to donate, which adds money for student scholarships. Many people say that it is used only as a tiebreaker in close decisions.

But some critics say that there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

“It offers a significant advantage for the applicants,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank. “In a time when we are racking our brain about how to attack inequality, here is a policy that is designed to be a preference for some of society’s most privileged students.”

Opponents cite research, including a 2010 study at Harvard found that in 30 elite schools, the likelihood of admission increased 45 percentage points for students with a parent who were present. Some other studies found no relationship between existing policies and alumni fundraising.

By the practice of the critics are those that take advantage of it. Former President George W. Bush, for example, called for an end to the older preferred, although it helped him get into Yale, which his father and grandfather lived. Instead, Bush said schools must judge applicants based on merit.

Students in the coalition says that their next step is to organize the voices in different schools to gauge support for the objectives described in their letter. That is scheduled at schools with Brown, Yale, Princeton and Cornell.

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Follow Binkley on Twitter at @cbinkley and McDermott @JenMcDermottAP

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