During the last several years, Johns Hopkins University has moved to eliminate admissions preferences for undergraduates based on their legacy status. The Hopkins admissions office considers many factors in evaluating the academic and personal qualities of applicants, but their family's alumni status is no longer one of them.
JHU President Ronald J. Daniels decided to move away from legacy preference in admissions shortly after he arrived at Hopkins in 2009. A former dean of the law faculty at the University of Toronto, Daniels was unaccustomed to "this form of hereditary privilege in American higher education," he wrote recently in The Atlantic, "particularly given this country's deeply ingrained commitment to the ideals of merit and equal opportunity." As powerful engines for social mobility, universities must do more to ensure access for those with fewer socioeconomic privileges and first-generation students, Daniels said.
For the freshman class entering in 2014, the university tested a policy to remove consideration of legacy status in admissions decisions. Having monitored the policy's success over several years, the university moved to formalize its decision last year.
"Serving as an engine of social mobility is core to our mission," says David Phillips, vice provost for admissions and financial aid at Johns Hopkins. "Increasing socioeconomic diversity has been a high priority for our admissions and financial aid programs, and ending legacy preferences is just one important step in the process of building a more socioeconomically diverse student body."
The decision has aided efforts to increase the socioeconomic diversity of the student body at Johns Hopkins. In 2009, the incoming class had more students with legacy status than it had students who qualified for Pell grants. Today, those trends are reversed, with nearly one-fifth of students admitted to Johns Hopkins qualifying for Pell grants and just 3.5% having a legacy connection to the university.
The effort is tied to Daniels' advocacy for higher education practices that support democracy and social mobility. During plenary remarks at the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting in January, he outlined ways universities can foster democracy.
"The university has come to stand alongside other core institutions like the free press, civic organizations, and an independent judiciary as one of the bulwarks of liberal democracy," Daniels said. "The university was not progenitor to the birth of liberal democracy, but it has become simply indispensable to its flourishing."
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