CMC reports legacy and donor preferential treatment in class of 2024 admissions

The Claremont McKenna College admissions office.
A report on California private colleges and universities lists Claremont McKenna College as one of four member schools that provides preferential treatment to applicants related to donors or alumni. (Julian Chapin • The Student Life) 

Seven percent of the students in Claremont McKenna College’s class of 2024 are related to alumni or donors, according to a report from the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. And in a shift from the 2018-19 admissions cycle, Pitzer College says it did not provide any manner of preferential treatment to legacy or donor-related students for those entering the class of 2024.

CMC admitted 708 students for the 2020-21 school year, 35 of which were donor or legacy-related. Ultimately, 23 of these students enrolled in a class of 315.

The class of 2024’s percentage of legacy students at CMC mirrored that of the previous class, which was also seven percent.

The annual report discloses information on the role of legacy and donor relations in private colleges’ admissions processes after the passage of California’s 2019 law AB 697, which aims to create more transparency in this process by mandating schools disclose these statistics publicly.

In a survey sent to the AICCU’s 85 member institutions, colleges were asked to indicate whether they “provided any manner of preferential treatment in admissions on the basis of the applicant relationships to donors or alumni.” Other than CMC, Pepperdine University, Santa Clara University and Vanguard University also reported offering admission to at least one applicant using these criteria.

Pitzer’s class of 2023 was 16.3 percent legacy or donor students. In last year’s report, the college indicated that it provided some manner of preferential treatment. But for the 2019-20 admissions cycle, the college reversed course and stated it did not show preferential treatment.

“Relationships to others affiliated with the College may be part of this profile, although academic performance and co-curricular involvement are the most important factors that are considered in the admission process at Pitzer,” a spokesperson said in a statement to TSL. 

The differences between the 2019-20 admissions report and 2020-21 admissions report are a result of new interpretation of the law, the statement said.

“We have not changed how we evaluate candidates for admission to the College. What has changed recently is the way Pitzer, and many other colleges, now interpret the legacy questions from AICCU,” the statement said.

In fact, Pitzer is the only AICCU institution that reported providing preferential treatment in last year’s report but no longer did so this year. Pepperdine did not report such treatment last year  but did in this year’s report.

Pitzer, CMC, Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College all reported considering alumni relations in admissions in their Common Data Sets, an annual report compiled by each college reflecting the school’s admissions data. Despite this, CMC was the only college that reported preferential treatment in this year’s AICCU report. 

This discrepancy could be traced back to the ambiguous language of AB 697. Only schools that admit to showing “preferential treatment” must disclose the number of legacy students admitted in the report.

On its website, Pomona College states that “while the application asks if you have any relatives who have attended and/or worked for Pomona College, we do not use this information for evaluative purposes or give any preferential treatment to applicants based on this information.”

Proponents of tighter college admissions regulations argue that the bill’s language must be made more clear. When California State Assembly member Phil Ting first introduced AB 697 in 2019, the bill included a policy that would bar higher institutions from accessing Cal Grant funds if they showed preference to legacy students. Cal Grants are essential funds for most colleges, meaning that many, if not all, California institutions of higher education would likely have halted legacy preferences. But this language was not included in the final legislation. 

Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute are not covered by Education Code Section 66018.5, according to the AICCU report, and therefore were not included in the findings. 

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