College admissions and familial coattails

Richard Kahlenberg is a self-described “tough liberal.” And his “toughness” certainly rubs many liberals the wrong way. For instance, in his 2001 book, “The Remedy,” he argued against racial preferences associated with affirmative action.

But now Kahlenberg is attacking preferences that tend to benefit elites. And he’s put together an all-star lineup of historians, reporters, lawyers and civil rights activists to do so. His latest book, “Affirmative Action for the Rich,” is a compilation of essays and reporting on legacy preferences by colleges.

At most colleges and universities in the U.S., preferences are given during the admissions process to students who have family that attended the institution in the past.

“I found affirmative action to be a hard issue. I could see arguments on both sides. Ultimately, I came out feeling that it should be based on class rather than race,” says Kahlenberg. “But to me, the legacy issue is not a hard one. It’s unfair, and there’s no social benefit. This is the first full-length book on legacy preferences and, actually, more students benefit from legacy programs than from affirmative action.”

Readers may be surprised to discover that the book also pokes holes in conventional rationale for these preferences. In one chapter, statistician Chad Coffman presents evidence to indicate that there is no measurable increase in alumni giving because of legacy programs.

“I’m hoping a lawsuit is brought against a university,” says Kahlenberg. “If and when that happens, I hope legacy preferences will be found unconstitutional.”

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