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Student group signs letter calling for more transparent legacy admission process

Duke Low-income/First-generation Engagement signed a full disclosure letter that asks the University to be more transparent about legacy admissions.

The letter was written by EdMobilizer Coalition—a group aiming to broaden access to college for undocumented, first-generation and low-income students. It requests that the University publicize all policies and data about legacy treatment and create a committee to re-evaluate its use. 

“Our coalition of students and alumni ask our colleges to re-evaluate the purpose behind as well as the extent to which legacy preferences play a role in the college admissions process,” the letter writes.

Duke Low-income/First-generation Engagement is a new student group focused on community building and advocacy for first-generation, low-income students. 

The letter claims that legacy preference is rooted in discrimination because the system was used to curtail the rising Jewish population in elite colleges. Legacy treatment has impacts beyond college by reinforcing class inequity and diminishing economic mobility, the letter states. 

It also cited a nine-year study of the top 100 universities in the U.S that found legacy preference policies do not significantly impact total alumni giving. The letter concludes that abolishing legacy preference will not affect donations and services like financial aid.

“This campaign is not about whether or not legacy applicants like our future children deserve their place in their respective universities. It is about ensuring that all students have equal footing in the admissions process regardless of whether or not their parents attended a certain university,” the letter states. 

The letter is signed by 12 other university groups, including some from schools such as Brown, Harvard and Yale.

Junior Kayla Thompson, vice president of advocacy for Duke LIFE, signed the letter after receiving no objections from the group. She said the group wants Duke to release information about whether the University has analyzed legacy admissions and the step-by-step process for legacy applications. 

The alumni website states that “admissions officers give special consideration to [legacy] applicants, including an additional round of review.” The Alumni Association may provide assistance and guidance during the application process, and they advocate for alumni children and grandchildren, the website writes. The association does not review applicants and states that affiliation does not ensure admission.

Carole Levine, senior director of the Alumni Admissions Program, wrote in an email that the Alumni Association communicates, educates and coordinates applicant interviews. 

“Just as with recruited athletes, artists, and others, the admissions office receives input it may find useful, in this case from our office, but always makes the final decision itself,” she wrote.

Levine said that for the past 14 years, alumni children at Duke have comprised between 10.3 percent and 13.5 percent of each class. Comparatively, Princeton’s website states that 13 percent of its class of 2021 are children of alumni. The Harvard Crimson has reported that over 29 percent of Harvard’s class of 2021 had relatives that attended Harvard.

Thompson explained that Duke LIFE is important because it allows first-generation students to meet, interact and help them form a sense of identity. She said she did not realize being a first-generation student was a disadvantage until she arrived at Duke and faced many barriers. The club also pushes for policy revolved around increasing equity.

“We think it's important to understand more about the legacy process because Duke, like a lot of our peer institutions, has consistently been pushing for more representation of low-income students and more equity within the admissions process as a whole," Thompson said. "We want to better understand what legacy preference means for equity in the admissions process."

Thompson noted that data from other schools show that legacy preference disproportionately favors white and affluent students. Students at Brown University are holding a referendum to create a task force that will research the effects of legacy preference, she explained. She added that other peer institutions hope to learn from the referendum process to identify what was effective.

The University admissions office does not publish an admissions rate for legacy students. Thompson said she does not believe the decision to not publish this data is out of bad intentions. However, she noted that publishing statistics will increase transparency and have no affect on number of applicants or alumni funding. 

A first-year who decided to remain anonymous, whose father attended Duke, said he also supports greater openness regarding legacy admissions.

“I think that more transparency in the application process is always an improvement that would benefit the entire university,” he wrote in an email.


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