Resolution: SA R35: Calling on Cornell to Eliminate Legacy Preference in Admissions

ActionAcknowledged by the President



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Dear Anuli, 
Thank you for conveying Student Assembly Resolution #35: Calling on Cornell to Eliminate Legacy Preference in Admissions. 
Cornell is strongly committed to admitting classes that are diverse in all dimensions. We are working hard to achieve this diversity, with deliberate efforts in outreach and recruiting. And we’re succeeding. Over the past three years (classes for Fall of ‘18 through Fall of ‘21), the share of first-generation students among all enrollees has climbed nearly 50%, from 13% to 19%.  Over that same three-year period the share of students admitted who are children of Cornell alumni has remained steady in range of 13%, give or take a couple of points.  In other words, we can move forward with our goals of expanding socioeconomic and other forms of diversity, while still considering alumni ties.
Socioeconomic diversity in the student body is also a key priority for our current philanthropic campaign: we’re aiming to raise half a billion dollars, to increase the number of students with financial aid by 1000, to decrease the average student loan by 25%, and to provide a summer savings expectation waiver to lower-income students. We’ve already raised half that amount.
It’s important to note that the most important characteristics we consider in admission are measures of academic work like grades and recommendations, as well as extracurricular activities. Secondary considerations include the applicant’s status as a first-generation or underrepresented minority student, a recruited athlete, a veteran and/or ROTC candidate, to name a few. Having a parent who is an alumnus also falls into this class of secondary considerations. We never admit a student who is unqualified academically, and none of these secondary considerations guarantee admission.
Many Cornellians loved their experience here; they tell me that it not only launched their career but made them who they are. A surprising number met their spouse here. It’s not surprising that they want their children to go to college here. And it’s by no means only older and/or wealthy alumni who express this view -- I hear Cornellians of all backgrounds say this. Indeed, it’s a little troubling to contemplate stopping consideration of a candidate having a Cornellian parent right at the moment where there are increasing number of alumni from groups who have been historically excluded with children who are college-going age (including Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and other alumni of color). 
Considering alumni relations a secondary factor in admissions is one way to keep the worldwide community or Cornellians engaged and supportive of one another. And that’s important in many ways: for example, when our students graduate, they often receive guidance and assistance in starting their careers, and are welcomed into local communities of Cornellians, no matter where they live.
Martha E. Pollack
Martha E. Pollack
President, Cornell University
300 Day Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853