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 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 predicts 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.
Jim Bacon publishes the Bacon’s Rebellion blog