The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling curtailing the consideration of race in college admissions is reviving a push to end another contentious part of the process: giving a boost to relatives of alumni and donors.

Minnesota colleges and universities are divided, with some eschewing the practice and others saying they consider an applicant's ties to donors or alumni only in a limited number of cases. Ultimately, the debate might not be resolved by the colleges themselves but by politicians who are showing an increasing willingness to ban the practice as lawsuits provide a glimpse into the often secretive world of college admissions.

The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities, which enrolls about 300,000 students, doesn't consider either because it is "open access," said spokesman Doug Anderson.

"We are proud to serve as the beacon of opportunity for all Minnesotans, especially those who have historically been underrepresented at higher education institutions such as Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color," Anderson said.

Macalester College, which enrolls about 2,200 students and is one of the most selective in the state, doesn't give additional points to relatives of alumni or donors.

"That said, we do take into account which candidates demonstrate strong interest (that could include a campus visit, participating in our outreach events, or having a family member who attended Mac)," President Suzanne Rivera said in a statement. "To give you a sense of scale, status as the relative of an alumnus affects only a handful of Macalester applicants in any given year."

It's difficult to tell how many colleges consider prospective students' ties to donors or alumni. Deliberations over specific applicants happen in private, and federal officials collect little data on the matter — though that could change.

Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced that he was asking the U.S. Department of Education to "analyze what practices help build a more inclusive and diverse student body and what practices hold that back, practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity."

Polls suggest the practice isn't popular with Americans. In a survey released by the Pew Research Center last year, three-quarters of people said admissions officers shouldn't consider whether an applicant's relatives attended the school.

Some groups that found themselves on the opposite side of the debate over affirmative action policies — which had allowed schools to consider race as one of many factors in their admissions decisions — are aligned in calling for an end to legacy admissions.

That showed in the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, with justices on both sides of the issue criticizing the system. Those practices "are no help to applicants who cannot boast of their parents' good fortune or trips to the alumni tent all their lives," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote. "While race-neutral on their face, too, these preferences undoubtedly benefit white and wealthy applicants the most."

New glimpse into admissions

The lawsuits provided a rare glimpse into the admissions procedures used at Harvard and some of the reasons why selective schools consider an applicant's ties to donors and alumni.

According to transcripts from a trial held in 2018, Harvard typically receives about 40,000 applications each year and admits about 2,000 students. The overall acceptance rate is just below 6%, but for legacy candidates — those whose mother or father attended Harvard — the rate was between 33% and 35%.

Applicants related to donors also sometimes get flagged for the dean of admissions and financial aid, and emails revealed that others at the university thanked the dean for meeting with or admitting relatives of benefactors.

"It is important for the long-term strength of the institution that we have the resources ... we need to, among other things, provide scholarships but also for all the other purposes at the university," Dean William Fitzsimmons testified at the trial.

On Monday, days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based nonprofit, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education challenging Harvard's legacy admissions practices.

The university hasn't commented on the complaint but said that in the coming months it will "determine how to preserve our essential values, consistent with the Court's new precedent."

Legacy and other factors

It's too early to tell how the debate might affect Minnesota colleges that consider applicants' ties to donors and alumni to varying degrees.

Representatives for the University of St. Thomas, a private university in St. Paul that enrolls about 9,000 students, say they "do not consider personal relationships to donors or alumni as determining factors in the admissions process."

Admissions officers working at Carleton College, which enrolls 2,000 students and is also among the most selective in the state, don't receive donor information during the selection process, according to a statement from Art Rodriguez, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid.

"We prioritize a student's academic ability above all other factors, followed by personal accomplishments and the broad diversity of the entire class. Our past and current practice has been to consider an applicant's relationship to Carleton, and not weigh it more than that," Rodriguez said. "This means that within a pool of academically qualified applicants, when other characteristics are relatively equal, legacy could merit a slight advantage."

Among the students who began their studies last fall, about 8% reported having a parent who attended Carleton College.

Admissions officers at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus, which enrolls about 55,000 students, expressed a similar sentiment, saying they place the greatest weight on a student's academic record but also allow them to report 10 "context factors," including "family employment or attendance at the University of Minnesota."

"Through this process, there is no one deciding factor for admission to the University of Minnesota," the university said in a statement.

Ultimately, the debate about legacy admissions might not be settled by the universities but by politicians. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, both Democrats, are pushing legislation that would prohibit many universities from giving preference to "legacy students or donors."

Merkley said in a statement shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling: "The last thing we should want is a world in which underrepresented students are given less opportunity while the wealthiest and most privileged students have their own special form of affirmative action."

Staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.