Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Elite colleges or private clubs?

 Sounds like a good way to address this issue of legacy admits triumphing over merit:

President Obama, who has recently sounded a clarion call to attack economic inequality, could give colleges a choice: If they don’t enroll a fair share of students from low-income families and want to continue to offer admissions preferences to legacies and the wealthy and powerful, they risk being reclassified as private clubs.

-Angela



Elite colleges or private clubs?

Legacy trumps merit far too often - here's how President Obama could change that

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, November 3, 2014, 4:05 AM


clee; 
 ELISE AMENDOLA/AP All in the family?
Kudos to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a campaign he announced last week: His charitable foundation and others will fund more college counselors and outreach services to get thousands more talented, low-income students to attend, and graduate from, high-quality colleges.
That’s urgently needed to live up to the American ideal of equal educational opportunity. Despite the fact one in five students with a top score on the ACT exam comes from a working-class or low-income family, you are 25 times more likely to bump into a rich kid than a poor one on the campuses of America’s 173 most selective undergraduate institutions.
But outreach and financial aid are of limited use if top-flight colleges systematically pass over talented, low-income students. The dirty little secret about higher education is that, despite well-marketed outreach and generous financial aid programs, many wealthy colleges embrace policies that undermine low-income students’ chances of ever being admitted, much less enrolled.
Until we confront those bad habits, we’ll only attack the problem around the edges.
Perhaps the most nefarious ways elite colleges reproduce inequality is to favor big donors, known as “development admits,” and children of alumni, via the so-called “legacy preference.” The federal government unwisely supports these inequitable practices — by providing tax-exempt status to colleges that discriminate against first-generation applicants (i.e. non-legacies). That’s a very large subsidy for perpetuating inequity.
At elite colleges across America, typically one in six students enrolled received a legacy preference. At Notre Dame, there are more legacies than black and Latino students combined.
Based on an analysis of admission data from 30 top colleges, researcher Michael Hurwitz concluded that children of alumni had a 45% greater chance of admission.
Yet the latest studies reveal legacies are less academically qualified than other admitted students. Researchers at Princeton quantified the advantage as equal to 160 additional points on an applicant’s SAT.
After controlling for all student characteristics, legacies are 20% more likely to be admitted to Harvard, for example, than non-legacies. Double legacies (with two parents who attended) get a 40% boost.
Is it any wonder three in 10 legacy applicants are admitted to Harvard — more than 400% higher the rate of other applicants?
The college admissions process is creating an aristocracy.
Elite colleges counter that legacy preference is essential to fund-raising. But many of these colleges don’t need a fund-raising boost. Notre Dame’s endowment exceeds $8 billion. Harvard’s is over $30 billion.
Besides, from a fund-raising standpoint, it would be fairer and more efficient to auction off college acceptance letters on eBay than to retain the legacy preference.
To make top-flight higher education a genuine engine of socioeconomic opportunity rather than something that calcifies inequality, we shouldn’t just increase outreach and financial aid programs. We should discourage colleges from practices that don’t reward achievement, promote diversity or meet academic goals.
A college that favors donors and alumni in admissions doesn’t have to be classified as a charity. It could be classified as a private club. And donations to private clubs are not tax deductible.
President Obama, who has recently sounded a clarion call to attack economic inequality, could give colleges a choice: If they don’t enroll a fair share of students from low-income families and want to continue to offer admissions preferences to legacies and the wealthy and powerful, they risk being reclassified as private clubs.
Meaning, if they want to offer a charity tax deduction to donors, they must swear off legacy preference and development admissions — or jack up enrollment of talented students from low-income families. It’s up to them.
In 2007, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.), then the Senate finance committee chairman, threatened the charity status of wealthy colleges that weren’t affordable to working-class students. The colleges howled at first, but many soon embraced improved financial aid policies.
Obama could do the same, and more, by reminding colleges that he could use his pen, directing the Department of Treasury to act, as well as the bully pulpit.
The politically-active left would cheer an attack on legacy preferences, while those on the right enjoy anything that pokes a finger in the eye of elite colleges.
But more important by far, thousands more deserving, upwardly mobile young people would get a fairer chance at an exemplary education.
Shireman and Dannenberg are former Obama administration officials. Shireman is the executive director of California Competes and Dannenberg is the director of strategic initiatives for Policy at Education Reform Now.

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