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Galston doesn't have kids. Bastard.

I bet Galston doesn't have kids. Ok, I just made that up, but I bet he didn't attend some fancy Ivy League school, so he doesn't want little Johnny to get the moniker he deserves—way to ruin it for the rest of us. By "rest of us" I mean the folks who've been "well-bred".

After Affirmative Action, End Legacy Preferences

Favoring students for family connections is as at least as unfair.

By William A. Galston, WSJ

Unlike Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in higher education enjoys wide public support. A recently released survey finds 52% of Americans approve of the decision, with only 32% opposed. Strong majorities of whites and Asian-Americans support it, Hispanics are evenly split, and black Americans find themselves isolated in their opposition.

Although Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard won’t end the controversy over affirmative action, it has established a new legal reality that is unlikely to change anytime soon. This doesn’t mean, however, that the country should abandon its quest for fairness in higher education. Instead, the decision should lead to a thorough re-examination of the entire college-admissions process.

Fairness requires equal opportunity for all and special privileges for none. Yet today admission to elite colleges and universities is rife with preferences that have nothing to do with race and give additional advantages to the advantaged. Americans are just as opposed to these practices as they are to racial preferences.

Special treatment for children of wealthy donors is an egregious example. As Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has written, officials from top schools don’t deny favoring well-connected applicants. They justify it on the grounds that every university does it.

The unequal treatment extends well beyond donors. Three economists—Peter Arcidiacono of Duke University, Josh Kinsler of the University of Georgia and Tyler Ransom of the University of Oklahoma—used public information to analyze Harvard’s admissions practices. They examined four kinds of nonracial preferences—for recruited athletes, and for children of Harvard graduates, financial donors and members of faculty and staff. The researchers found that more than 43% of white applicants admitted to Harvard between 2014-19 fell into one or more of these categories. Nearly three quarters of them would have been rejected if they had been subjected to the same standards as other white applicants.

Children of alumni, who make up on average 14% of each entering class, were the biggest part of the problem. At every level of qualification, children from families in which one parent had attended Harvard were much less likely than others with similar qualifications to be racial or ethnic minorities and far more likely to be admitted. If both parents had attended Harvard, their children’s boost was even greater. Of these “legacy” admissions, 41% came from families with annual incomes of $500,000 or more—putting them in roughly the top 1% of all families—compared with 15% for all those admitted. It is hard to imagine a clearer case of intergenerational advantage.

Top universities fear that donations and alumni engagement will decrease if nonracial preferences are eliminated. That’s probably true. Some wealthy people won’t write big checks if they can’t buy admissions slots for their children. Less-competitive football and basketball teams will damp enthusiasm, and contributions will follow suit.

But there are larger issues at stake. Populist politicians gain support by claiming that in the competition for income, status and respect, the rules of the game are “rigged.” Admissions policies at elite educational institutions help fuel these charges. Such policies are flatly inconsistent with the nation’s promise of equal opportunity, and institutions like Harvard—whose endowment at the end of fiscal 2022 amounted to $51 billion—can afford to change them. The last thing America needs is a hereditary meritocracy.

Admissions standards at top colleges and universities are only part of the battle for equal opportunity. On average, children from lower-income and less-educated families attend schools that don’t prepare them for higher education and the workforce as well as the schools that their privileged peers attend. Less-advantaged students deserve but don’t enjoy a fair chance to succeed.

Despite giving special treatment to children of big donors, the University of Texas at Austin has found a way to mitigate the effects of this unequal opportunity. Since 2009, 75% of its admissions slots have been reserved for the highest-achieving students at each of the state’s high schools: rich and poor; rural, urban and suburban. This policy has produced a highly diverse student body—65% are nonwhite—nearly one quarter of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Over the past decade, the university has achieved dramatic increases in the share of students from low-income and minority backgrounds who remain in school and graduate on time.

While this strategy can’t achieve full equality of opportunity, it certainly opens the door to the kinds of students who didn’t have a chance when I taught at the University of Texas a half-century ago. Other schools, private as well as public, would do well to try it.

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