Being a legacy applicant gives students the equivalent of a 64 to 160 point boost on SAT scores in college admissions. A new study shows giving lower-income students a similar boost would go a long way in decreasing economic segregation in U.S. schools.
If lower-income students had a boost like those for children of alumni, selective colleges would be far less economically stratified, a study suggests.12:01 p.m. ET Image A view of Princeton. Many highly selective U.S. universities have a disproportionate number of students from the wealthiest 1 percent, which perpetuates economic segregation. Credit... Eduardo Munoz/Reuters What if middle-class and low-income students got the same sort of edge in college admissions that children of alumni often receive? A new paper from a team of prominent economists says that a simple strategy — an SAT “bonus” of 64 to 160 points, like that effectively seen in legacy admissions — would go a long way toward decreasing economic segregation in American higher education, and give a boost to social mobility through the generations. The research adds to a continuing conversation about the “missing middle” on selective college campuses. It shows that relative to high-achieving affluent and low-income students, students with high test scores from the middle class — those from households earning between $25,000 and $111,000 per year — enroll in Ivy League-caliber institutions at lower rates. For example, of American college students born between 1980 and 1982 who scored a 1400 out of 1600 on the SAT , 11 percent from households that made over $111,000 per year enrolled at Ivy League-caliber colleges, compared with 5 percent from middle-class families and 7 percent from families that earned less than $25,000. Three-quarters of affluent students with a 1080 on the SAT attended one of the 976 selective colleges included in the study, compared with just 51 percent of the students from the lowest income bracket with the same score. “You cannot explain the very high shares of kids from high-income families solely by saying they are the ones who have higher test scores,” said John N. Friedman, an author of the study and an economist at Brown University. The proportion of middle-class students on Ivy League-caliber campuses could be increased to 38 percent from 28 percent simply by enrolling more of those who have the same high SAT scores as wealthy applicants, the research suggests. But because so few students at the very bottom of the income distribution score highly on standardized tests, the authors said, additional steps would be needed to significantly increase their presence on the “Ivy Plus” campuses that are the focus of the study: the eight Ivy League colleges plus the University of Chicago, Duke, M.I.T. and Stanford. Offering the equivalent of a 160-point SAT boost — the advantage given to legacy applicants by some elite colleges, according to previous research — would increase the low-income share of Ivy Plus students to 12 percent from 4 percent. The authors also propose giving a boost to middle-income students of between 64 and 128 SAT points, on a sliding scale that reduces the bonus as family income goes up to $111,000. Because the scale of these advantages is similar to those given to legacy applicants at some colleges, the paper suggests that socioeconomic integration across two- and four-year colleges is achievable, Professor Friedman said. “This would take a lot of concentration and focus, but it is not something that is wholly beyond our capacity.” The other authors are Raj Chetty of Harvard, Emmanuel Saez and Danny Yagan of the University of California, Berkeley, and Nicholas Turner of the Federal Reserve. The paper was peer-reviewed and will be published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The research is based on anonymous federal data linking parental tax returns to students. The SAT “bonus” scenario is far from a concrete policy proposal. It does not consider student qualifications other than standardized test scores, and does not delve into how public policy might change to make college more affordable — a major issue in the Democratic presidential primary. Nor does it address how such a strategy of income-based affirmative action could affect university budgets. Colleges might have to recruit students who are currently not applying, then provide more financial aid. The authors present their system of income-based preferences as a counterfactual. In their model, they hold constant the total number of students at each college, the racial composition of the student body and the proportion of students on each campus from each state. On race, the implication is that some white students with lower incomes and somewhat lower test scores would be admitted instead of some higher-income, higher-scoring whites. Lower-income black or Asian-American students would similarly take the places of some higher-income black or Asian-American students. The study does not wade into the debate over whether the current racial makeup of elite colleges is fair. That is a subject the Supreme Court may take up, as cases challenging race-based affirmative action at places like Harvard and the University of North Carolina wend their way through the federal court system. The authors of the new paper do not state who should lose the seats others would gain. In reality, enrolling more low-income and middle-class students while holding constant the total number of spots could mean that some other currently favored groups — such as athletes, legacies or the children of donors, and black or Hispanic students — would be admitted in lower numbers. Johns Hopkins, for example, has ended legacy admissions in order to admit students from a greater diversity of backgrounds. The 6.2 million people included in the study are approaching 40 years old, but Professor Friedman said the findings remain relevant, given the continued paucity of low-income students at highly selective colleges. At Ivy Plus institutions, there have been Read more: The New York Times
Better idea: start treating students as individuals and judge them blindly without looking at race, legacy status, or other special categories. Quite radical. schools are being hit hard for doing this, there is no such thing as a legacy applicant No extra points for anyone for any reason. List the requirements and take the ones who meet or exceed them . Fair and simple.
Jeez I hope they won't be doing jobs that will put people at risk when they graduate. What is the equivalent point deduction on SAT scores for being Asian? the schools are doing that because legacy parents will stop donating if their kids don’t get in. They are doing it for the $. They aren’t going to start pushing lower income students in because their parents have no $. If you don’t think the college Ed is a biz, I got a bridge
A better idea. Kill legacy applications and treat all applicants on the same basis. Deny Federal funding (everyone's tax dollars) to any University that discriminates on the basis of legacy. Great, so instead of undeserving rich kids we'll have underserving poor kids. Sounds legit to me. A case of patronizing bigotry - legacy students given the equivalent of a 64 to 160 point boost on SAT scores - treating individuals as inferior
or just, like, get rid of the SAT
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It would decrease economic segregation, but would it also decrease any hope of a meritocracy? I believe the top spots at the top schools should go, perhaps, to the top scholars. What about middle or upper middle class kids who don’t have legacy? Low income students can go to cheaper schools. If they remove the legacy benefit why would I bother to give money to my alma mater? People should get into college based on merit. Legacy students are more likely to graduate than 1st in the family students.
In either case, what's the point of being accepted when you can't handle the coursework? Colleges should accept on merit and success. Standardized testing is already a joke, but at least they've been consistent. So,you think it's fair to bump another kid to make someone else'feel better?'Should be against the damn law. That's called rigging the system.
They are not interested in a level playing field. Exclusion is their identity. This study erroneously presupposes that it is merely 'being a legacy' vs. 'being from a certain family.'
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