Time to put an end to inherited preferences?

About a century ago, top American colleges began giving the children of school graduates preference for admission. Harvard, for example, did not want too many “lower class” students (recent immigrants, Jews) and therefore favored applicants who had family ties. The practice continues to this day.

In today’s Martin Center article, Walt Gardner argues that it’s time to end inherited preferences.

Gardner writes, “There was a time when the number of ‘allowed legacies’ in colleges was low enough overall that the practice was tolerated. But with elite schools now under immense pressure to diversify their student numbers, enrolling underachieving applicants largely because they are alumni family is criticized by some as an unfair practice that perpetuates inequality in admissions.

He notes that some top schools, such as Amherst and Johns Hopkins, have dropped inheritance preferences. Colorado passed a law to ban it from its state universities. Some members of Congress want to use the leverage of federal student aid to force all schools that want to accept federal funds to stop granting inheritance preferences.

There is some opposition to that, of course. Gardner notes that “the pullback is likely to intensify in the coming months, as admission to elite colleges is increasingly seen as a distinct advantage to finding high-paying jobs after graduation. “.

In fact, it is not such a “leg up”. Going to a prestigious school is becoming less and less of an advantage as employers increasingly look for real proof of ability. Parents who’ve ripped off their clueless kids to the best schools might like to brag about where they’re going, but a degree from a top college won’t guarantee the kids’ success.

I agree with Gardner’s conclusion: “In the final analysis, inherited preferences are nothing more than positive action for the rich and well-connected. For too long, the two have played an outsized role in admissions. It’s time to replace them with pure merit.

George Leef is the Director of Editorial Content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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