Home Business of Education In Defense of Colleges Granting Admissions Preference to Alumni Children
In Defense of Colleges Granting Admissions Preference to Alumni Children

In Defense of Colleges Granting Admissions Preference to Alumni Children


Wally BostonAn opinion piece by Jeff Selingo last week in the Washington Post criticized colleges giving preference to alumni children. Let’s start with the irony of that criticism.* If a non-elite, non-selective college gave preferential admission to a child of an alumnus, no one would object. After all, non-selective schools admit nearly everyone. While the Post didn’t reference “elite” in the headline, the colleges cited include UVA, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton, most of which accept 10% or fewer of their applicants.

Tuition, fees, and room and board at these institutions (excluding UVA) range from $66,000 to $70,000 annually. The percentage of students granted institutional aid ranges from 49 – 59% and the average scholarship approximates $45,000 annually. The institutions’ collective decision to limit undergraduate enrollments drives their exclusivity (single-digit admission rates are increasingly common) which, in turn, drives their ability to charge much higher tuition than a public institution and most private ones.

However, the high percentage of students receiving institutional aid lends credence to the institutions finding an offset of students who can afford the full sticker price. When I consider the alumni annual giving, development campaigns and alumni bequests funding many initiatives at these institutions, why not review a list of alumni donors when considering the percentage of full-pay students for admission?

I therefore don’t buy the author’s rationale for eliminating alumni preferences. For starters, the fact that alumni children have a 300% greater chance of admission at Stanford when the overall percentage admitted was 4.7% means that they only have a average 15% chance of admission. In fact, I suspect that children of major alum donors have a much higher chance of admission than those of alums who have not done so, but no one is disclosing that number. That’s not much of an advantage for your child if you’ve been a loyal donor for the 20-30 years after graduation between getting married and having college-bound children.

If the percentage of applicants receiving institutional aid was a lot lower (say 15-25%) and the percentage of alumni children admitted was a lot higher (say 30-40%), Mr. Selingo might have a point. Until then, let’s focus on issues impacting more students nationwide, like how to increase the Pell Grant award to cover at least 75% of the cost of public college attendance.

*Note: For the record, I’m a contributing alumnus of Duke University, Tulane University, and the University of Pennsylvania and sit on the Board of Overseers of the latter’s Graduate School of Education, but otherwise have no vested interest in my stated position on this issue.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.