'This is about the message it sends': Carleton College ends legacy admissions

Skinner Memorial Chapel
Skinner Memorial Chapel, on the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. Carleton is one of the latest colleges in Minnesota to end legacy admissions.
Tom Weber | MPR News file

Carleton College now joins the rank of colleges and universities that have ended legacy admissions.

The University of Minnesota scrapped its policy this summer. Across the country, more than a hundred colleges and universities have ended legacy admissions since 2015.

Even with the trend, legacy consideration remains a common practice in higher education.

Carleton College President Alison Byerly shared more about the school’s decision to end its policy.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

For the full conversation, click play on the audio player above or read the transcript below. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

What made you decide to end legacy admissions and why now?

We just finished a plan about a year and a half ago focused on inclusion, equity and diversity at the college. Like many colleges since 2020, we've been engaged in a lot of conversation about ways to ensure that our community can be as diverse and welcoming as possible.

Then, of course, we all found that following the Supreme Court decision in June, there was a kind of spotlight on all of our admissions practices. As we looked at what we were doing to recruit the best range of students we can find, and how we think about composing a class that represents a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and qualifications, it was seeming harder and harder to defend admitting someone primarily because of their past history with the institution.

It's really not about whether we have alumni children, grandchildren or relatives at the college. It's about how they're admitted and whether we feel that's equitable in the current environment.

What will be different in the application process moving forward and give us some background on how it worked in the past?

In the past, what we have found is that typically six to nine percent have had parents and a couple percentage points more other relatives. That said, looking statistically at the qualifications of legacy applicants over the last decade, we found that actually they closely resemble other admitted students — meaning that they're very similar in profile to students we admitted without legacy status.

What we do expect going forward is that we'll certainly at the end of the process, want to recognize and celebrate the presence of some legacies in the class. But we won't ask for that information as part of the application process, and it won't be known to our admissions officers when they're considering a student for admission.

What have you heard from your alumni and donors about this? What's the reaction been like?

This is only a few days ago that we announced this. We got immediately quite a lot of response from alumni and I would say that it has been very dominantly positive. I particularly value the notes I've gotten from alumni who've said, my own kids are looking at colleges or I have a couple of kids who will be college-aged soon, and I am 100 percent supportive of this change. This is the right time for Carleton to make this move.

There certainly have been alums who are disappointed. A few who have said, does this mean that you're not as eager to have alumni as part of the community? Does it mean that diversity doesn't include people who have strong and deep connections to the college?

In those cases, I've tried to write back and convey that, we certainly hope we will continue to have lots of alumni apply to the college, and we hope that many of them will be well qualified students who will get in.

But this is really about the message it sends to potential applicants about our desire to be as broad and inclusive as possible: that this is not a club. This is an academic institution that looks for a certain set of backgrounds, experiences and qualifications in students — and that's the basis on which all students will be assessed.