Have a Claim?

Click here for a confidential contact or call:


Donor and Legacy Admissions Policies at Undergraduate Institutions Face Scrutiny

Posted  August 2, 2023

The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (DOE-OCR) has opened an investigation of Harvard College’s undergraduate donor and legacy admissions practices for discrimination based on race, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program that receives federal financial assistance from DOE, and Harvard is a recipient of federal funding for research and financial aid.

The investigation arises from a complaint filed against the President and Fellows of Harvard College (Harvard Corporation), by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) on behalf of three Massachusetts-based nonprofits—Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network.  The complaint urges DOE-OCR to investigate Harvard’s practice of legacy and donor admissions, because such practices preference wealthy, white applicants whose families are donors or alumni at the expense of applicants of color.  Specifically, the complaint alleges that legacy admission is a discriminatory practice because a portion of white students, who would not be admitted without donations or legacy connections, take slots away from qualified, merit-based applicants of color.  As a result, fewer applicants of color are admitted.

Statistics tell the story.  At Harvard, donor-related and legacy applicants were respectively six and seven times more likely to be admitted than non-donor and non-legacy applicants, and 70% of those applicants were white, according to the Complaint.  Other statistics cited by the plaintiffs shows that legacy applicants at Harvard from 2014 to 2019 had over a 33% acceptance rate, compared to 6% for purely non-legacy merit-based applicants.

The complaint comes just days after the Supreme Court took on affirmative action in the admissions process, in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (“SFFA”) v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, ruling that the schools’ consideration of race in college admissions violated Title VI and therefore the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.  The Chica complainants rely on the SFFA majority opinion that “eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it” because “[c]ollege admissions are zero-sum.  A benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter.”  See Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 20- 1199, 600 U.S. __, Slip Opinion pp. 15, 27 (2023).  NPR News reported that following the SFFA decision, President Joe Biden also urged universities to rethink their practice of legacy admissions which “expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

The impacts of legacy-based admissions are present in other colleges beyond Harvard.  According to an Associated Press survey last year, at Notre Dame, USC, Cornell, and Dartmouth, there were more legacy students than Black students in freshman classes.

Other colleges have ended legacy admissions, including Amherst, MIT, and Wesleyan.  The results are positive.  When Johns Hopkins ended the practice in 2020, enrollment of Black and Hispanic students increased, according to an AP News article.  More will surely follow.

Complainants are calling on the Department of Education to ensure that familial relationships and donations are left out of the admissions decision process, and that these practices must end among all colleges that receive federal funding.

Stay tuned as there no doubt will continue to be fallout from the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on affirmative action in the university setting.  Be on the lookout for continued scrutiny of university practices that disproportionately favor one group over another.  Given the new strictures on affirmative action, many are looking for other areas where the college admissions playing field can be more squarely leveled.

One area we are focused on is education fraud where for-profit colleges and universities dupe students into an empty education with little career prospects, all so they can maximize their federal financial aid funding.  Students of color, low-income, and first-generation students are targeted and impacted most by these deceptive tactics, according to a Harvard Law Review essay.

If you have any information potentially relating to education fraud or misconduct and would like to speak to a member of our whistleblower lawyer team, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation.

Read More

Tagged in: Education Fraud,