Carleton College on Thursday joined a growing list of schools that will no longer consider an applicant's ties to alumni, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer renewed debate over the admissions process.
"Legacy status has historically not played a significant role in decisions at Carleton. It has at times merited a slight advantage within a pool of academically qualified applicants, where other characteristics are generally comparable," President Alison Byerly wrote to students, alumni and others in an email. "Nevertheless, we recognize that in a highly competitive process, even a slight advantage can have an impact on outcomes."
The announcement came two months after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a controversial, split ruling limiting colleges' ability to consider race in admissions decisions, a process known as affirmative action. In their written opinions, justices on both sides of the issue also criticized another portion of the process: legacy admissions practices that give an advantage to applicants related to alumni or donors.
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 at the time. "While race-neutral on their face, too, these preferences undoubtedly benefit white and wealthy applicants the most."
The case offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the admissions processes used by elite universities. Just days after the ruling, lawyers asked the U.S. Department of Education to probe legacy admissions at Harvard University. President Joe Biden criticized the practice, and some members of Congress are pushing to limit it.
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.
The University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus announced last month that it would stop considering an applicant's ties to alumni and said, before that, that it hadn't been collecting data on admitted students' ties to donors.
Carleton College in Northfield enrolls about 2,000 students and is one of the most selective higher education institutions in the state, admitting about 18% of applicants.
Carleton leaders previously said admissions officers don't receive donor information during the selection process. But some applicants did disclose ties to alumni.
Byerly wrote that in recent years, between 6% and 9% of students reported that a parent attended Carleton "with a higher percentage claiming another family affiliation."
She told students and alumni the college is working on a strategic plan that "outlines strategies for improving access for students from a range of backgrounds, including first-generation students and students with high levels of financial need."
"We believe that our goal of expanding access makes this the right time to discontinue legacy preference," she said.