Some Students More Welcome than Others

Legacy students were offered admittance to the University of Virginia at nearly twice the rate of non-legacies in the fall 2018 semester, according to the UVa student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily. (UVa defines “legacies” as children or live-in stepchildren of university alumni.)

Nearly 47 percent of legacy applicants received an offer in the most recent round of applications. In the same period, only a little over 25 percent of non-legacy applications were offered admission — making the process almost two times as difficult for students whose parents did not attend the University.

Legacy applicants composed just over five percent of the approximately 37,000 applications received by the University, but represent more than 10 percent of about 10,000 offers sent by the University.

If you thought there was a social justice angle to the story, congratulations, you win the prize:

While the University does accept students of all races, legacies skew white. In 2018, this meant eight percent of admitted students were white legacies. By contrast, Hispanic and Latinx, African-American and black and Asian and Asian-American legacy applicants each compose less than one percent of all admitted students. …

The demographic with the highest admission rate was black or African-American applicants at 32.7 percent, followed by Asian or Asian-Americans at 29.8 percent. Hispanic or Latinx applicants had an acceptance rate of 25.8 percent and white or caucasian applicants had a 26.7 percent admission rate.

Legacy children go through the same admissions process as all other applicants, University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn told the Cavalier Daily. “Legacy is one of several factors that is considered as part of our holistic review of applicants. Other factors include whether applicants are first-generation college students, military veterans or from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds, to name a few.”

Legacy applicants have slightly better test scores and grades than non-legacies on average, de Bruyn said: 20 points higher on the SAT, and two percentage points more likely to have been in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Cavalier Daily article cherry-picked data, alluded to racial/ethnic disparities, then used loaded language — “making the process almost two times as difficult for students whose parents did not attend the University” — to imply that the legacy process conferred an unfair advantage.

Fortunately, the reporter and/or editor were intellectually honest enough to include data, though buried in the article, that showed how little — remarkably little, to my way of thinking — legacy status figured into UVa admissions. It turns out that legacies are offered a spot in larger numbers, at least in part, because… (drumroll)… legacies are more qualified than the average applicant.

There’s a bit more to the story that the Cavalier Daily could have explored had the newspaper managed to break out of its social justice paradigm. Consider an alternative framing of the data:

White applicants were admitted to the University of Virginia at lower rates than African-Americans, Asians and Asian-Americans. The disparity was greatest for white applicants with no family connection to the university.

An alternative framing of the data also could have emphasized the gap — evident at other elite universities — between the qualifications and admission rate of Asian-American students.

To draw meaningful conclusions about the role of race, ethnicity and wealth in UVa’s admissions policies, we would need to break down applicants by racial/ethnic category, and then by legacy and non-legacy within each category. Then we would need to see the SAT scores and class rankings for each category and sub-category.

If such data could be obtained, I would offer the following predictions: (1) legacies of all racial/ethnic groups are admitted at somewhat higher numbers than non-legacies; (2) legacies of all racial/ethnic groups have slightly higher qualifications than non-legacies; (3) black and Hispanic applicants are admitted with lower average SAT scores and class rankings, suggesting that the admissions process discriminates (if not overtly, then in effect) in their favor; and (4) Asians and non-legacy whites who gain admission have higher average SAT scores and class rankings on average, suggesting that the admissions process discriminates (in effect) against them. Based on practices at other elite universities (see the lawsuit filed by Asian-Americans against Harvard for admission policies discriminating against Asians), I would predict that Asian-Americans are victims of the worst discrimination.

Those predictions are consistent with the data supplied by the Cavalier Daily, although we need complete data to draw definitive conclusions. Don’t ever expect, though, to see a follow-up from the Cavalier Daily. I doubt its staff is interested in pursuing an angle that conflicts with the dominant social-justice narrative.

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7 responses to “Some Students More Welcome than Others”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The graduation statistics broken down that way would also be of interest, although UVA has admirable results across the board there, as I recall.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Good article Jim.

    UVA is a state institution. The admissions procedures at UVA are appalling. Obviously, UVA admission’s decisions are based on bias, prejudice, and yes, outright racism. The state should take over the admissions process at UVA altogether. The administors at UVA obviously cannot be trusted at this task. Admissions should be based on academic performance and potential, period. Everyone knows how to do this. The color of one’s skin should be irrelevant. Where one’s parents went to school should be irrelevant. Whether one is rich or poor should be irrelevant. Beyond academics, the only thing that should count is whether or not one is a legal resident of Virginia. That ratio should be established by the State Legislature. Beyond that all is pure bias. And total narcissism of the worst sort.

    1. fromthefuture Avatar

      “The admissions procedures at UVA are appalling. Obviously, UVA admission’s decisions are based on bias, prejudice, and yes, outright racism.”

      You need to back up this BS.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Seems like you can either have a totally blind system where no factors at all are considered other than academic qualifications OR you’re into a system of picking and choosing factors …. criteria .. that are more likely than not to be subjective in terms of “what counts and what counts more”, etc.

    No question that most all Universities have a “system” of considering “factors”.

    And no surprise that, in general, folks may or may not agree with those choices and in fact probably split among groups.. depending on their values and affiliations.

    And then of course we have those folks who are narcissistic about their colleges…. but that’s another thread… 😉

  4. One thing to note is that although the overall admission rate has dropped below 30%, the in-state admission rate has been over 40%. If more of the legacy applicants are in-state vs. out-of-state, it could explain the percentages, perhaps more than the slight difference in statistics.

  5. With $2.3B sloshing around UVA can no longer use the excuse of some smaller, private colleges: “we need their parents’ alumni giving.”

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yes, and UVA should pay directly out of its own funds the costs of all students who otherwise cannot afford to go to UVA. These payments should be solely based on need (not on skin color, or for any other reason, including merit.) This policy will break UVA’s reckless spending, its narcissistic sense of entitlement, and its unearned sense of righteousness. It will put UVA back into the real world, along with everyone else.

      It will also require UVA to think before they saddle their students with debt, and use other peoples money to fund UVA every whim, wish or fancy, including their own private research.

      I am forever reminded of the story that appeared some 30 years ago. Two girls, one black and one white, had been best of friends growing up in Northern Virginia. Always they had done most everything together. For more than a decade they would graduate together with the same class at the same school with very good grades, as model students. So, in their senior year in high school, they both applied to UVA. Being friends, and given their habits grown over a lifetime, they drove down to UVA for their admission interviews (which they still had in those days.).

      From the moment those two girlfriends stepped into the admissions office at UVA, everything changed for the both of them, each in their own way. To their great surprise, they were immediately separated, and immediately treated far differently one from the other. They learned how differently they were treated one from another, as they shared their experiences on their drive back home. Suddenly they fell into silence. That was just the start. By the time of high school graduation they were no longer friends. They hardly spoke to one another passing in the hallway. It’d been that way for weeks, if not months. UVA had ruined a beautiful relationship between two wonderful girls.

      It’s put an end to UVA’s ruining of relationships between kids.

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