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.”