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November 23, 2003

Legacy vs. affirmative action-a question for liberal readers

Recently I stumbled upon an assertion in an e-list I'm on that legacies are typically more prepared for college than race-based affirmative action admittees. My first inclination was to respond: No, blacks at Harvard have higher test scores, etc., than legacies. But I'm having a hard time finding such data, though there are plenty of assertions that repeat this talking point, which I've encountered and accepted as truth since I was 17 when my history teacher in high school used it as an argument in favor of affirmative action. Does anyone know where find information on this topic? The only article that I found with a lot of numbers argued in the opposite direction:


But it must be noted that, as in the case of women and men, the academic qualifications of legacy students are generally not far below those of their non-legacy counterparts. At the University of Virginia (UV), for instance, legacies generally enter their freshman year with better high-school grades than the university's overall pool of in-state students, though not quite as good as the out-of-state students. In their 1994 book The Bell Curve, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray report that in 1990, the average student admitted to Harvard scored 697 on the verbal SAT and 718 on the math SAT, as compared to 674 and 695 for legacy students admitted; these disparities are miniscule in comparison to those that exist between white and black admittees.

Moreover, sometimes the scales actually tip in the other direction. For example, the legacies in the current freshman class at Vermontís Middlebury College averaged 1389 on their SATís Ė fully 33 points higher than the overall class average. The admission rate of legacies in this class was 45 percent, considerably higher than the 27 percent rate for the class overall, but much lower than the nearly 60 percent rate for blacks.


Anyhow, just a plea for more information, I am curious as to this literature. Obviously because of regression to the mean high achieving parents will have more mediocre children, on average, but I suspect that the most regressed offspring of Harvard graduates tend not to apply to Harvard....

Posted by razib at 03:29 PM