Students, colleges react to Supreme Court overturning legacy admissions policies

Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ended their session by overturning higher education’s right of affirmative action.
Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 2:32 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ended their session by overturning higher education’s right of affirmative action. In response to that 6-to-3 ruling, many have advocated for the ban on legacy admissions, or a college or university’s ability to honor familial ties when admitting students.

“My top one being Georgetown. I would say Yale, Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, Boston University, of course, and Howard University,” said Wilbraham rising senior Abyssinia Haile.

Right now, Haile is looking at a fall full of college applications, testing, and fees. It’s no easy test for any senior with a full course load, but there’s one more thing making her life harder.

“When I hear legacy admissions, it’s just like, you know, how can you get rid of something that was actually helping minorities in the United States that have been underprivileged by the college admissions process,” Haile explained.

As a first-generation prospective college student and the daughter of two Ethiopian immigrants, legacy admissions are working against her.

“Legacy admissions has and continues to act as an impediment for students like me, who weren’t lucky enough to have parents receive a college education in the United States,” Haile noted.

On June 27, Haile testified at the Massachusetts State House in favor of a bill that, if passed, would have Massachusetts become the first state to ban the use of legacy admissions and preferences by both public and private higher education institutions.

“It is a system that is deeply enrooted in unjust practices that are fostered for the sake of recycling alumni heritage through the bloodlines of their institution’s history,” Haile added.

Created in the 1920s, legacy admissions were designed to keep Jewish, Catholic, and Asian students out of higher education institutions. Almost 100 years later, critics said it limits access for students of color. Just last week, the United States Department of Education opened a probe into Harvard admissions and said their legacy preferences violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harvard has not commented on the matter.

Closer to home, according to Smith College’s website, they had a 19 percent acceptance rate for the upcoming school year. They told Western Mass News in a statement that three percent of their applicants are legacy students. They continued by saying, “Banning legacy programs will not have a significant impact on Smith. Access to education has been a core value at Smith since its founding.”

“It will definitely change the game for the Ivy’s, for schools that have that truly six, seven percent acceptance rate, where students are looking for any leg up,” said Jon Scully, vice president of enrollment at Springfield College.

Scully added that while they love referrals from alumni, it doesn’t factor into their acceptance process.

“I think a student should stand or not on their own merit and if somebody earns a spot in that college, they should get that spot, rather than somebody that gets a spot just because their parents went here,” Scully explained.

“I was honestly mesmerized by her testimony,” said Mary Tamer, executive director for Democrats for Education Reform, who sat next to Haile on the day of her testimony. “I think that when you hear the voices of students and that is exactly…those are the important voices, right?”

As of right now, the legacy admission bill is sitting in front of the state’s higher education committee. No vote is scheduled at this time. Now, students like Haile wait for legislative action that speaks louder than words.

“It would just be so nice to have a world where things such as wealth, money, class and race and stuff like that wouldn’t have to take into a huge account as to where you get to end up in life.” Said Haile.