Legacy status valuable to admission

Gregory Doyle

For over a decade, the consideration of an applicant’s legacy status during the admissions process has been criticized as affirmative action for the already-affluent, but each year, children of alumni continue to comprise a substantial percentage of Villanova’s freshman class.

“The term ‘legacy’ refers to a student whose mother and/or father graduated from Villanova,” said George Walter, associate dean of enrollment for Admissions and Financial Aid. “When we consider a candidate with any other family relation, [he or she is] described as having an alumni affiliation.”

Villanova received a record 15,102 applicants for the Class of 2012, with a 39 percent acceptance rate, according to the University’s President’s Report for the ’07-’08 year.

And while admission rate continues to drop each year, the legacy acceptance rate at Villanova has steadily hovered around 69 percent for the past three years, according to Walter.

“The University has a stated commitment to enrolling students who are legacy applicants as well as those who have an alumni affiliation,” Walter said. “Over the last three years, the average percentage of the enrolling freshman class whose parents are Villanova alumni is 12.2 percent, and when we consider anyone who has an alumni relationship, including legacies, the last three years sees an average of 25.5 percent of the enrolling class representing this group.”

Schools across the nation try to appeal to legacies by expressing an interest in the applicant.

Some schools will send personal letters to the legacies from the Dean of Admissions, encouraging the applicants to consider their parents’ alma maters.

“Each fall, on the Sunday of Homecoming weekend, we host ‘Legacy Day,'” said Associate Director of Admissions Carolyn Defant. “Legacy Day is an information session and tour specially designed for prospective students whose mother and/or father attended Villanova. Last year, there were over 700 people in attendance.”

Drawing in legacies helps maintain a sense of tradition on which Villanova, and so many other colleges, prides itself.

Intergenerational attendance at a single university helps make the school as much a part of a family as the family is a part of the school.

“The University is committed to providing an opportunity for the children of Villanova alumni to continue the Villanova tradition,” Walter said. “To that end, we afford academically qualified students this consideration.”

Legacies are more likely to be exposed to the world of higher education at a much younger age.

They often come from environments that value academia, making them more qualified applicants, according to Bill Shain, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Bowdoin College.

“As a child, I always wanted to come [to Villanova] because I felt so connected with the school because of my father,” freshman legacy Courtney Cashan said. “When it came down to it, though, I chose to come here because it was the best fit for me.”

Senior legacy Andrew Clare had a similar experience when he chose to accept enrollment at Villanova.

His mother, Class of ’77, was “ecstatic” with her son’s choice, though, according to Clare.

“I felt no pressure at all from [my mom] to enroll here,” Clare said. “I looked at Villanova because she went here, but when I found out more about it for myself, I really liked what I saw.”

The success of Little Wildcat Weekend is proof that having college-educated family members introduces a child to higher education sooner.

Seeing a respected older sibling thriving on a college campus spark a desire for the “little wildcat” to begin his or her college search earlier.

While there are many exceptions, choosing which college to attend is most often up to the prospective student.

However, a legacy who constantly hears all the benefits of his or her parents’ alma mater can be affected in making a final decision.

The less-trumpeted reason for a high acceptance rate for legacies is the prospect of alumni donations if the alumnus’ son or daughter attends.

According to the Council for Aid to Education, alumni donated $8.27 billion to their respective schools, accounting for 27.8 percent of all voluntary support to higher education.

Still, legacy admissions have been under fire for years as being an archaic form of nepotism that only makes the wealthy wealthier.

In a 2007 Columbia Spectator column “Legacy Admissions are Stupid,” columnist J.D. Porter wrote that legacy admissions were “a concept born out of racism and parochial fear, and it remains retrogressive in nearly every sense.”

According to Porter, legacies are a product of the Ivy League’s attempts to maintain a uniform student body in the 1920s, after educated Jews were seen as a threat to the WASP system.

“Admitting about 100-plus students a year based on an at-best 20-year-old model of diversity is the academic equivalent of keeping separate drinking fountains just for old times’ sake,” Porter said.

In 2004, President George W. Bush opposed the role of legacy status at a Unity: Journalists of Color convention.

“I think it ought to be based on merit,” the third-generation Yale graduate said.

Thomas J. Espenshade, a Princeton researcher in diversity in higher education, and Chang Chung, a statistics programmer from Princeton, equated legacy status with a 160-point increase on an applicant’s SAT score out of 1600.

Some of America’s most selective colleges, including Princeton, Dartmouth, Middlebury and Bowdoin, have legacy admissions rates that are between two and four times the overall acceptance rate, according to a 2008 ABC News article, “Top Colleges Mum on Legacy Admissions.”Each year, colleges attempt to garner a diversified class, but maintaining a high acceptance rate for legacies might counter these efforts.

“The legacy students on the whole tend to be more affluent and whiter than the general population of students,” said Daniel Golden, author of “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates,” in an interview with ABC News.

According to the Williams College Admissions Office, children of alumni acounted for between 11 and 15 percent of the freshman class.

Haverford College’s Admissions page states that legacies comprised 9 percent of its Class of 2012.

Walter said he does not believe Villanova’s dedication to legacy admissions prevents the school from amassing a diverse student body.

“The University has been able to maintain our commitment to providing opportunities for alumni children while at the same time seeing sustained growth in multicultural student enrollment,” Walter said. “In each of the last three years, multicultural students represent more than 20 percent of the entering freshman class.”

And while Villanova does draw in an impressive number of legacy applicants, the school receives more than double the number of applicants who are the first in their families to attend college.

As of Jan. 30, of the 13,000 applicants for the Class of 2013, 1,407 are first-generation college students, according to Walter.