See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 3.
In the last two days, we have established two key facts about legacy students at places like Williams and (?) Harvard. First, legacies — meaning the children and grandchildren of graduates — are about 10% to 20% of each class. Second, legacies as a whole have more impressive academic credentials — meaning test scores and high school grades — than non-legacies.
Is legacy versus non-legacy an apples-to-apples comparison? Probably not. Legacies are whiter, richer and less athletic than the class as a whole. Since all those things make it harder to gain admissions, we really ought to compare legacy students to a “matched” group of non-legacy students, a group with the same distribution of characteristics like race, family income and athletic ability. That would help us to determine if legacies get an advantage or not.
Note that the argument can also go the other way. Consider the case of “development” admits, students who would not have gotten in if their families were not major donors, or at least potential donors. Such admissions are much more likely to be legacy students. But they aren’t getting accepted because of their legacy status. It is their families wealth that is getting them in. They still would have gotten in, regardless of where their parents went to college. Without the family wealth, however, they would have been rejected.
The expert testimony in the Harvard trial tries to tease apart these effects using a regression analysis. We can dive into the details, if anyone is interested.
For me, the key point is the following: Any category of applicants which receives a meaningful advantage in admissions — recruited athletes, racial minorities, billionaire families — will have lower academic qualifications than the class as a whole. If a category, like legacies, has similar academic qualifications than, almost by definition, they did not received a large advantage in admissions.