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Amherst college is ending legacy admissions, which gave an edge to children of alumni

Students walk out of Johnson Chapel at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., April 24, 2019. Amherst College will no longer give admissions preference to the children of alumni, the school announced Wednesday.
Students walk out of Johnson Chapel at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., April 24, 2019. Amherst College will no longer give admissions preference to the children of alumni, the school announced Wednesday.

AMHERST, Mass. — Amherst College will no longer give admissions preference to the children of alumni, the school announced Wednesday, ending a practice that has been criticized for giving an additional advantage to students from wealthier families.

The liberal arts college said it's dropping legacy admissions to create a fairer admissions system and to promote diversity on campus. In the past, children of alumni have made up 11% of incoming students at the college of 1,700 students. Going forward, family status will not be considered in admission decisions.

Amherst President Biddy Martin said the shift will make the school accessible to more students, regardless of their financial background or family connections.

"Now is the time to end this historic program that inadvertently limits educational opportunity by granting a preference to those whose parents are graduates of the college," Martin said in a statement.

At selective colleges across the nation, it's common for children of alumni to be given an edge in the application process. Colleges defend the practice by saying it it encourages alumni to donate and is only used as a tiebreaker in close decisions.

But activists have called on colleges to end the practice in recent years, saying it reinforces class and racial inequities and creates an uneven playing field.

Amherst was among more than 30 schools targeted by a recent nationwide campaign to boycott donations from alumni until their schools end legacy admissions. Others targeted include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Stanford universities.

In making the change, Amherst joins a small but growing number of colleges that have dropped the practice. Last year, Johns Hopkins University announced it had ended the policy, and Colorado lawmakers banned it at public universities this year. Some prestigious schools say they have never given legacy preference, including at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Amherst said it's also expanding its financial aid to help more students from lower- and middle-income families. About 60% of students are expected to get financial help, the college said, with the average household aid package estimated at $63,000.

The annual cost to attend the college is estimated at about $85,000, including tuition and other fees.

Matthew McGann, the school's dean of admission and financial aid, said he hopes more students will see Amherst as an option going forward. By dropping legacy admissions and boosting financial aid, he said, the college is confident it will see an increase in diversity among its applicants and ultimately on campus.

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