Legacies’ Leg Up: Inequity in Admissions

Z. Stewart/The Phillipian

For this school to successfully maintain its repertoire as la crème de la crème of high schools in America, it needs to be the spearhead for innovation. The construction of the Snyder Center and the Gelb Observatory, for example, are two of many state-of-the-art facilities that distinguish Andover from many academic centers around the world. And this is where the law of supply and demand kicks in. The school requires venture capital to promulgate new projects and construct new facilities: 1.058 billion dollars, to be exact. So, wealthy alumni generously support the school by donating extremely large sums of money.

From the surface level, this may seem innocent enough. These donations are made to enhance the future of the Andover community. However, underneath the table lies the murky and unofficial agreements which guarantee that the “legacy” of the donor family will forever live on, through their children, grandchildren, and their descendants to come. And this is not an exaggeration. According to a study done by Richard Kahleberg, a graduate from Harvard Law School and the “intellectual father of the economic integration movement” in schooling, being a legacy at the top 19 selective colleges in America raised an applicant’s chances of admission by 19.7 percent.

Although I do not know the extent to which legacies affect the admissions process at Andover specifically, we know that legacy does play a role, and it should not. For families who support Andover through donations, however impactful those gestures of kindness are to our community, we should never allow them to influence the fundamental stance of meritocracy that we parade on our banners. It is essentially a system of aristocratic hierarchy wherein accomplished and ambitious prospects can be denied a shot at glory simply because they were not born into the “correct” household. How is this any different from the situation in Elizabethan England, if I may ask?

Andover supports diversity and actively works to encourage the implementation of the “Youth From Every Quarter” manifesto. However, the inclusion of legacy in the admissions process contradicts the whole purpose of that movement.

I come from Kenya, a third world country, and many students back home would do anything to have access to an average public school in America, let alone an outstanding school such as Andover. By allowing legacy to influence the admissions process, we are denying those same peoples (along with general working Americans) an Andover education not based on their work ethic or talents, but based on their socioeconomic class. This is the very definition of corruption, and there is no justification for denying someone the privilege to a brighter future in the pursuit of happiness because of someone else’s undeserved “birthright.”

The American educational system presents crossroads of opportunity. This potential ticket to social mobility for so many diligent Americans and immigrants, however, is currently being grabbed by the families whose names are emboldened onto our towering classrooms.

I admit, it will be extremely difficult to uproot a system that has lasted throughout the ages. Andover benefits from and needs a flow of resources and assets from patrons and sponsors. But if our school — and America as a whole — is going to stay competitive and cohesive, it needs to provide a quality education for all, not just for an elite class adept at reproducing privilege across generations. We cannot pragmatically eliminate legacy admissions completely, at least not in this generation, but we can reduce it by a reasonable percentage. Hopefully, as a community, we will find a way to financially sustain Andover’s endeavors while still upholding its meritocratic values.

Feb 22, 2018