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Johns Hopkins Sees Jump In Low-Income Students After Ending Legacy Admissions


A decade ago, 1 in 8 students admitted to Johns Hopkins University received preferential treatment because they had a relative who graduated from the school. In 2014, the school decided to end so-called legacy admissions. Now they say they've been able to see the effects of that change. David Phillips is vice provost for admissions and financial aid at Johns Hopkins. He joins us now from the campus in Baltimore. Thanks very much for being with us.

DAVID PHILLIPS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And why did you change policy in 2014?

PHILLIPS: Well, President Ron Daniels saw that the university's admissions program had a component around legacy admissions, and he was uncomfortable with those types of preferences, so he began a conversation.

SIMON: And we should explain that legacy admissions are common in universities.

PHILLIPS: That's right. So he recruited me to the university in 2012, and we began a plan to diversify the student body. We felt that eliminating legacy preferences would be an important component.

SIMON: And what have you noticed so far?

PHILLIPS: We have higher proportions of first-generation students, of students from limited-income backgrounds. And we're hearing from faculty that the debate and engagement within the classroom is more robust and more impactful to the students' learning process.

SIMON: I have to ask; how did some alumni react?

PHILLIPS: The alumni reactions were mixed. Of course we had some alumni who were not happy about the change. But we had just as many alumni who were very proud that the university would take a more meritocratic approach to our admissions policies.

SIMON: Was there a financial cost to Hopkins?

PHILLIPS: There was not a financial cost. You know, we saw no correlation between legacy preferences and alumni giving. And...

SIMON: Well, I have to note you did receive $1.8 billion from Michael Bloomberg. And that was for scholarship assistance, right?

PHILLIPS: That's correct. That $1.8 billion was all for student financial aid. But remember; we started with our new legacy policy back in 2014, so that predated any idea about this gift.

SIMON: Does this solve it, or are there other challenges you have to address to get the kind of diversity that you think befits a great institution like Hopkins?

PHILLIPS: As you bring students from different backgrounds to your campus that maybe you're not used to supporting, you need to make sure that you have the proper supports in place, right? Most students who come to college are coming from a college-going tradition in their family, and so they have some idea of what that transition looks like. So knowing that we have more students who don't have that background, we have to make sure we provide that kind of support.

SIMON: David Phillips, vice provost for admissions and financial aid at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, thanks so much for being with us.

PHILLIPS: Well, thanks very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.