Legacy Preference at Stanford

![](http://economics.stanford.edu/files/uploads/palm_tree_1.jpg)
How should we decide who gets to come learn beneath the palms?
If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read [this excellent op-ed piece](http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/opinion/30kahlenberg.html?_r=1) from Wednesday’s New York Times on legacy preferences at elite universities. If you’ve already read that, check out this [longer and more in-depth article](http://chronicle.com/article/10-Myths-About-Legacy/124561/) at HuffPost by the author of the op-ed.

Now the first thing to consider is whether or not Stanford gives preference to “legacy” applicants; that is, those whose parent(s) or step-parents(s) have previously attended Stanford. The Admissions Department is, unsurprisingly, silent on the issue in its public materials and statements. The university even refused to disclose statistics on legacy admissions rates to ABC news in 2008. But it is possible, and in fact quite easy, to determine that Stanford still has (or at least had in very recent years) a policy giving preference to “legacy” applicants. A Stanford Daily report on the issue from 2009, which confirmed that roughly one fifth of the Class of 2013 was made up of “legacy” applicants, made it quite obvious that “legacy clearly plays a role in admissions.” A Fiat Lux post responding to that report concurred, and pointed out a study which found that “legacy students who were admitted with lower standards than the institution as a whole actually did perform worse at the school and worked less hard, something not found to be true for racial minorities or athletes.” And a 2003 article (well worth reading) in the Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal quoted the then-dean of undergrad admissions as saying that “children of Stanford graduates receive preference in choices among applications of approximately equal qualifications.”

Obviously, Stanford is one of those legacy-preferring “elite universities” mentioned in the NYTimes op-ed. And I have to say, I completely agree with the author. He argued so well, in fact, that I really don’t have much to add. The University ought to seriously reconsider its policy on legacy preference, which really amounts to little more than (as the author said) “affirmative action for the rich.”

The legality of legacy preferences, however, is quite a different question, and one that I’m not quite qualified to answer. Any law students or public policy majors out there who want to take a crack at it?

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