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Kidder reaffirms University’s commitment to legacy admissions after Supreme Court ruling

| Wednesday, August 23, 2023

As legacy admissions programs at elite universities face heightened scrutiny in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down affirmative action in college admissions, Notre Dame reaffirmed the practice will continue to play a role in admissions.

Micki Kidder, vice president for undergraduate enrollment, explained in an interview with The Observer that legacy admissions are still important to Notre Dame going forward.

“Notre Dame alumni are deeply devoted to this place,” Kidder said. “I would argue it’s actually legendary within higher education, possibly unmatched within higher education … This dedication is something we greatly value and we don’t want to ignore it.”

According to Statista, 36% of Notre Dame alumni made a contribution to the school in 2019, the last year for which data is available. Only the alumni of two other elite research universities — Dartmouth College and Princeton University — had a higher percentage of alumni who made a donation to their alma mater that same year.

Even with this commitment to its alumni, however, Kidder stressed that the University never aims to give an unfair advantage to unqualified legacy applicants. She also said the legacy status of an applicant does not wholly determine if that applicant is to be admitted.

“I believe our responsibility is to give every applicant, both legacy and non-legacy, careful and fair consideration to ensure that we are striking this balance of recognizing and appreciating the dedication of alumni children, yet never placing an unfair advantage to those individuals,” she said.

But upon the overturning of affirmative action in college admissions, many have criticized legacy admissions for giving a leg up to privileged applicants.

“It is certainly true that legacy admits tend to be more wealthy and more white than the typical applicant pool,” said Notre Dame associate law professor Jennifer Mason McAward during a virtual panel on affirmative action hosted by the Klau Institute for Civil and Human Rights on July 7.

Recently, three civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, alleging the university’s legacy admissions program disproportionately benefits white students. The U.S. Department of Education launched an official investigation following the suit.

While institutions such as Wesleyan University and the University of Minnesota join the ranks of schools such as Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College in not considering an applicant’s legacy status, legacy admissions continues to play an important role at Notre Dame — more so than at its peer institutions.

Don Bishop, the former vice president for undergraduate enrollment, estimated in an April 2022 interview with The Observer that between 19% and 25% of each class consists of children of alumni. At Yale, 14% of the class of 2025 consisted of legacy admits, and roughly 15% of the student body at Harvard are children of alumni.

Admitted alumni students at Notre Dame often yield at a rate of about 75%, while other admits yield at a rate around 50%, Bishop said. 

A recent study conducted by researchers from Harvard and Brown also determined that students whose family income is in the 99.9 percentile of earners nationwide are 2.4 times more likely to attend Notre Dame than students from the middle class (defined as those in 70 to 80 percentile range of earners) with the same test scores.

However, Bishop noted the average alumni child at Notre Dame has “exactly the same median GPA as the entire class.” 

Even with increased scrutiny legacy admissions is facing, some professors expressed doubt about the feasibility of eliminating the practice.

“Eliminating legacy admissions is going to be hard at many selective universities, given often who is on trustee boards and things like that,” said Anna Haskins, associate professor of sociology and associate director of the Initiative on Race and Resilience, during the July 7 panel. “But I think there are ways in which Notre Dame itself can really counteract or counterbalance some of the existing preferential treatment policies that were not eliminated in this Supreme Court ruling.” 

Fr. Robert Dowd, vice president and assistant provost, also speaking during the July 7 panel, affirmed his support for the University to ”continue efforts to … admit low-income and first-generation students” to increase diversity. Dowd said he spoke as an individual and not on behalf of the University.

Kidder described the University as “deeply committed” to increasing the number of low-income students on campus.

She also pointed to several University initiatives to recruit and admit underprivileged students, such as the Cristo Rey Network and the Alliance for Catholic Education network. 

First generation and low-income students will make up almost 21% of the incoming first-year class — exceeding the number of legacy students enrolled, Kidder said.

“We’ve worked really hard to create pathways for the students from all backgrounds and will remain committed to that,” she said.

Kidder also reaffirmed the University was committed to meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated need.

“That commitment to enrolling these students coupled with our financial aid commitments to meet the full demonstrated need of every student regardless of income and household family income … will continue to drive an increasing number of low-income students on campus,” Kidder said. “It’s something that we are fiercely committed to.”

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