Sitting down to coffee with a woman who runs a small non-profit organization, she began our conversation by thanking me for my recent contribution. Her remarks were gracious and allowed me to imagine I’d given significant assistance to her cause. Later, however, she let slip that another donor had written a check ten times greater than mine. Naturally, my illusion of generosity burst like a soap-bubble.
Based on that occurrence, I smiled while reading an article about legacy preference, a policy among colleges and universities which gives admission preference to the offspring of wealthy alums. “People think that if they give a couple hundred thousand or a million they’re big donors.” But what gets a university’s attention is a gift of $15 million “which could fund 10 to 15 scholarship kids …” (Pay to Play,” by Dan Golden, Town&Country, 2/17, pg. 127.)
Legacy preference has been roundly criticized by writers like Dan Golden. His book, published 10 years ago, The Price of Admission, described the practice as elitist and discriminatory. After much public debate, some institutions made accommodations. One trend among schools with a history of having benefitted from the slave trade has been to give legacy preference to the descendants of slaves. Children from low-income families have also gained ground. A wide number of assistance and scholarship programs now exist for them. “Harvard, Yale and Stanford give a full ride, including tuition plus room and board, to students whose family income is below $65,000.” (Ibid pg. 127.)
To offset these new policies, colleges and universities rely more than ever on the largesse derived from legacy preferences. But what happens to students in the middle, applicants with good grades who don’t fall into any special category? The answer is they have difficulty being admitted to top-tier universities and are likely to graduate with a crushing debt load if they are.
As one Notre Dame official put it, “The poor schmuck who has to get in on his own has to walk on water.” And if the student Is white or Asian American, “the schmuck has to walk on water – during a tsunami.” (Ibid pg. 127).