FILE - People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore, Maryland.
FILE - People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore, Md.

Many top private U.S. universities have what’s called legacy admissions, meaning applicants whose parents or family members went to that school get preference over others. 

But is it fair? 

Many educators and admissions officers are questioning whether legacy admissions should be abandoned. Others say the practice helps raise funds that can be used for students who need financial aid. 

At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, legacy admissions were ended recently. JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said that many children of Hopkins’ graduates already have social and educational advantages. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology have not had legacy admissions, according to a column Daniels penned for The Atlantic. The University of California-Berkeley ended this preference in the 1990s, Daniels said. Other highly rated universities abandoning legacy admissions include the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in Britain.

FILE - People walk in front of Sather Gate on the University of California-Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif., July 18, 2019.

Most retain it

But most colleges and universities continue the practice. A survey by Inside Higher Education found that about 42% of admissions officers at private colleges and universities said legacy remains a factor in admissions. At public colleges, only 6% reported using legacy as a factor.

Schools that allow legacy admissions say they raise more money if they give children of alumni special consideration, The Washington Post reported.

The money, in turn, helps other students with financial needs. Johns Hopkins reports that removing legacy admissions has resulted in a more diverse student body with high academic abilities, but one that requires more financial aid. 

Additionally, students of college-educated parents are more likely to try for and complete an undergraduate degree than students whose parents did not attend college, an Inside Higher Education article said. 

In 2014, special interest group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) brought legal action against Harvard University, saying Asian Americans were not being evaluated fairly. SSFA said Harvard gave preference to black and Hispanic students with lower grades.

Harvard policy upheld

In court, a Harvard dean said it was important for the university to favor the children of alumni in order to bring students who “have more experience with Harvard” together with “others who are less familiar with Harvard.” Putting these different groups of students together, he added, would make “them more effective citizens and citizen leaders for society.”

FILE - Students walk into Kirkland House on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

A federal judge agreed, ruling in 2019 that the school’s admission policy did not discriminate against Asian American students.

While SSFA says it is appealing the decision, the organization and its founder, Edward J. Blum, have been criticized for using this court strategy to abolish affirmative action. Blum and SSFA have unsuccessfully sued other universities over similar affirmative action claims.

The Twitterverse was overwhelmingly in favor of abolishing legacy admissions at U.S. colleges and universities. 

“Very proud that @JohnsHopkins has just abolished legacy admissions,” wrote Yascha Mounk,  an assistant professor at JHU School of Advanced Studies, whose tweet received 274 retweets and 1.3k likes.  

'Do the right thing?'

“As [JHU President] Ron Daniels argues, this is ‘necessary if American universities are to fulfill their democratic promise to be ladders of mobility for all,’ " Mounk said. "So @Harvard, @Princeton, @Yale: Will you, too, do the right thing?” 

Mounk called out other top-rated Ivy League universities that consider legacy when deciding admissions.  

“End legacy admissions, sure. But end affirmative action too,” tweeted C.J. Pearson, self-described on his website as “the left’s youngest nightmare. Young, black and unapologetically Republican.” His tweet garnered 376 retweets and 1.6k likes. “America is a meritocracy. The color of one’s skin nor the import of their last name shouldn’t be what opens doors for someone in our society. It should be their talent and their abilities. Period.”