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Sophomore Connor Hill with his parents and Hillsdale alumni Kevin and Cheryl Hill. Connor Hill | Courtesy

Fifty-two fully-enrolled Hillsdale College stu­dents, or 3.6 percent of the student body, receive financial aid through the college’s legacy schol­ar­ships.

Children and grand­children of Hillsdale alumni are eli­gible for a $1,000 annual schol­arship under the college’s current policy. Director of Financial Aid Richard Moeggenberg explained almost all eli­gible can­di­dates are offered the schol­arship upon sub­mitting their appli­ca­tions and proving they meet the aca­demic stan­dards.

Hillsdale College’s official policy on legacy admis­sions states appli­cants must meet the same aca­demic stan­dards as first-gen­er­ation stu­dents. In the past, the college admitted a small handful of both legacy and non-legacy stu­dents who had lower than average aca­demic marks but showed strong potential to succeed, according to Jen­nifer Brewer, director of field recruitment for the admis­sions department. Those stu­dents were placed under aca­demic pro­bation for their first few semesters, which meant they would receive support in their aca­demic work. Now, however, with an increas­ingly com­pet­itive applicant pool, all stu­dents are admitted under the same standard. 

“There are a variety of factors in an admis­sions decision,” she said. “Admin­is­tration does its best to balance the needs of the college with the demands of the course work here. We want to admit stu­dents who can succeed.”

Using legacy schol­ar­ships to override admis­sions rules is con­tro­versial, but not unprece­dented. For instance, in 1935, John F. Kennedy was accepted into Harvard Uni­versity despite fin­ishing with subpar grades during high school. The eventual 35th pres­ident never averaged higher than 81 percent in any of his high school classes and fin­ished with a “D” letter grade six times. Yet thanks to his father, a wealthy alumnus, Kennedy was accepted into Harvard.

But one does not have to be born into wealth and power to benefit from legacy schol­ar­ships. In 2008, 41 percent of the student body at the Uni­versity of Penn­syl­vania was com­prised of legacy stu­dents. An esti­mated 29 percent of Harvard’s class of 2021 is also receiving legacy schol­ar­ships. However, unlike other major insti­tu­tions and uni­ver­sities, Hillsdale’s legacy program reaches an extremely narrow portion of the student body overall.

“From my impression,” Brewer said, “I’ve seen just as many children of alumni declined as accepted.”

Sophomore and student athlete Connor Hill receives financial aid on the basis of his father’s alumni status. Hill also received schol­ar­ships for his aca­demic excel­lence and ath­letic per­for­mance in high school and said he appre­ciates both the legacy that pre­ceded him and the one he is forming.

“It’s a great honor. My family is very proud to be from Hillsdale,” Hill said. “My father played football and bas­ketball here and my mother was a cheer­leader and ran track. It’s great to not only be a student at their alma mater but be an athlete like both of them as well. Hillsdale gave them the back­ground they needed to have very suc­cessful lives and I know it will do the same for me.”