Johns Hopkins says eliminating legacy preference has increased access, diversity

After quietly phasing out legacy preference in the admissions process across the last 10 years, officials at Johns Hopkins University now say the shift has helped the institution build a more diverse student body. 

As of fall 2019, 3.5 percent of students in Johns Hopkins’s incoming freshman class had parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or siblings who had earned undergraduate degrees at the university. It was a sharp drop from 2009, when 12.5 percent of incoming freshmen had legacy ties. Across the same timeframe, the share of students eligible for Pell Grants jumped—from 9 percent in 2009 to 19.1 percent in 2019, according to the Washington Post

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Phillips, Hopkins’s vice provost for admissions and financial aid, said the current student body is “much more diverse, much more high achieving than it had been previously,” adding that “we’ve had significant increases in the proportion of first-generation students in our class, female engineers; the racial composition has changed.”

‘But one piece’ of a larger strategy

Johns Hopkins moved away from legacy preference gradually, fully eliminating it in 2014; the university shared the decision publicly in recent weeks. In doing so, it joined several U.S. institutions with similar policies, including University of Maryland at College Park, University of California, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and California Institute of Technology.

University leaders say it’s important to view the policy change and its impact within a larger context. “Ending legacy preferences is but one piece of our university’s work to make a Johns Hopkins education accessible to all talented students, to mitigate the burdens of debt, and to ensure that students receive the supports and services that will help them thrive,” Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins, wrote in an op-ed for The Atlantic.

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