Wesleyan drops legacy preference
Now nearly a month after the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action, the Connecticut-based private liberal arts college announced Wednesday that it will no longer consider legacy status in its admissions process.
Marie Sanford, Contributing Photographer
Wesleyan University president Michael Roth announced on Wednesday that the Connecticut-based private liberal arts college will no longer employ legacy preference.
Following the Court’s June decision to repeal race-conscious admissions, which experts believe will lower enrollment rates of underrepresented racial groups at elite universities, schools are seeking ways to continue promoting racial diversity. Some universities, like Wesleyan, have narrowed in on legacy preference — an admissions model that offers a leg up to the children or direct relatives of alumni — given research that demonstrates the legacy pool to be whiter and wealthier than other applicants.
The liberal arts college’s decision comes less than a month after a Boston-based civil rights group filed a complaint against Harvard University alleging that its use of legacy preference violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by disproportionately favoring white applicants.
Wesleyan, which admitted 15.7 percent of applicants to the class of 2027, joins a growing list of selective schools which have dropped legacy admissions in recent years, including Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and Amherst College. Four percent of students accepted to Wesleyan’s class of 2027 had a parent who went to Wesleyan, according to the class profile.
Yale, however, has not yet taken a public position in the weeks since the affirmative action decision. Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan released a joint letter to the undergraduate community after the ruling, as did University president Peter Salovey to Yale affiliates broadly, but neither of these statements offered conclusive insight into the future of legacy admissions at the University.
“In the coming months, my colleagues and I will announce details of new initiatives designed to expand our outreach,” Quinlan wrote last week in a News opinion column urging current students to promote the University in their own communities. “But preserving Yale College’s strength and excellence will require more than new programs … the most effective component of any college’s outreach strategy is a current student sharing their own personal experience.”
At Yale College, legacy students make up approximately 12 percent of the class of 2026, 14 percent of the class of 2025 and 8 percent of the class of 2024.
Although the University has not taken a public stance on legacy admissions in the weeks since the Court’s affirmative action ruling, Quinlan said in an interview with the News two years ago that legacy students contribute to student body diversity. Last year, he submitted testimony against a Connecticut bill that would have banned legacy preference statewide, arguing that universities should retain the right to make decisions about their own admissions processes.
The admissions office declined to provide comment for this story, and senior associate director for outreach and recruitment Mark Dunn told the News that the office does not intend to share further information with reporters until it announces details about the new initiatives to which Quinlan’s column refers.
According to Roth, Wesleyan chose to move away from legacy preference because of the “unlearned advantage” it provides legacy students and had been considering the decision for a few years; the Supreme Court ruling was the final straw.
“We still value the ongoing relationships that come from multi-generational Wesleyan attendance, but there will be no ‘bump’ in the selection process,” Roth wrote in his Wednesday blog post. “As has been almost always the case for a long time, family members of alumni will be admitted on their own merits.”
Roth told ABC News that the move away from legacy preference is partly intended to signal to prospective applicants that Wesleyan is continuing to prioritize diversity.
Elissa Nadworny of NPR’s All Things Considered last week described similar motivations at other universities, noting that some admissions leaders have been concerned that students from underrepresented backgrounds will not apply to selective schools because they are nervous about how the affirmative action repeal may impact their chances of getting in.
“We wanted to send a very clear signal to students of color around the country, to low-income students around the country, to people from regions of the United States and elsewhere who don’t normally apply to Wesleyan and schools like us,” Roth said. “We wanted to send a strong signal that we want them to come to Wesleyan, [and] that we want them to apply.”
Legacy preference at Harvard University — one of the defendants in the legal battle that ultimately ended affirmative action — has also come under fire. Earlier this month, Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a civil complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that Harvard’s donor and legacy admissions preferences violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by disproportionately favoring white applicants.
According to recent studies cited in the complaint, nearly 70 percent of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white. Rates of admission are nearly seven times higher for donor-related applicants than for non-donor-related applicants and nearly six times higher for legacies than for non-legacies.
Yalies have long advocated against legacy preference. Before the affirmative action decision, the Yale College Council passed two separate resolutions condemning the practice. The YCC also wrote an open letter to University administration after the ruling, as did the News’ independent Editorial Board, both of which called on the University to abolish the practice.
“Yale must be a leader among elite and selective colleges,” wrote the Editorial Board, “ensuring now more than ever that opportunities granted by a Yale education are not stripped from the disadvantaged by virtue of them instead being generously afforded to those that already have Yale’s blue blood in their veins and the associated generational privileges their Yale connections provide them.”
A common rationalization of legacy preference is that the practice prompts alumni to donate more money to their alma maters. Multi-generational attendance could yield stronger familial connection to a school, in turn prompting an increase in donor-funded revenue.
Wesleyan’s president, however, is not concerned.
“I’m betting on the idea, and I wouldn’t have made this decision if I thought it would seriously hurt the university’s economic foundation,” he said.
After LCR filed its civil complaint against Harvard, Yale spokesperson Karen Peart referred to Lewis and Quinlan’s June 29 message to the Yale College community, in which they committed to “closely examin[ing]” the University’s admissions process in light of the Supreme Court decision.
Also after the complaint, YCC vice president Maya Fonkeu told the News that the University needs to turn its words into action.
“President Salovey said that Yale has an ‘unwavering commitment to creating and sustaining a diverse and inclusive community’ in his response to the SCOTUS decisions,” Fonkeu said, quoting from Salovey’s message to the University affiliates after the fall of affirmative action. “Ending legacy admissions is one way to make good on that promise.”
Students for Fair Admissions, the nonprofit organization that emerged victorious as the petitioner in the Court’s ruling against affirmative action, had fought for decades to put a death knell to race-conscious admissions. A year and a half ago, founder Edward Blum told the News that SFFA also opposes legacy preference, noting specifically that the practice “inhibit[s] and diminish[es] the opportunities of applicants from modest socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Wesleyan University was founded in 1831.