Development cases are a set of preferences in university and college admission, particularly in college admissions in the United States, separate from merit, athletic, racial and legacy preferences, whereby applicants from wealthy families are more likely to be granted admission to selective universities based on large donations made by family.
The practice is not widely discussed by universities that use it, but is reported to be used by a number of top-ranked schools, Ivy League and otherwise.
A development case is an application to an undergraduate institution that is set aside during the admission process for further review. In these cases, the merits of admitting a student based on their academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular activities are lowered by the donations of the applicant's family. With development cases, a student whose academic performance and test scores are not enough to merit admission might instead be dependent on the donations the applicant's family may give.
Development cases theoretically have a better chance of acceptance. While there is no universal system for acceptance or rejection from a given university, most elite universities use numerical metrics to deal with the large number of applications, and the development case label can mean a numerical advantage or a tiebreaker in these metrics. This numerical advantage is comparable to that of a star athlete or legacy applicant.
However, the low number of development cases is surprising. Estimates range from less than 1% to 5%. This low number is due to the decisions of the admissions director and the large amounts of money required to make a difference- in the millions of US dollars.
A possible development case is illustrated by Jared Kushner's Harvard acceptance. This case is specifically named by Daniel Golden's book The Price of Admissions: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges - and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. In the book, Golden highlights the 1998 donation of $2.5 million by Jared's father Charles Kushner. Golden argues that this donation influenced the decision-making process of the admissions committee and ensured Jared's acceptance for 1999. Golden quotes sources from Jared Kushner's high school who did not believe that Kushner could be accepted on merit alone.
A spokesperson for Kushner Companies denied the allegation that the gift and the admission were related and pointed out that Charles and Seryl Kushner have donated over US$100 million to charitable causes.
It should be noted that Jared Kushner was not a legacy admission, which is more widely acknowledged as a factor in admissions decisions. Charles Kushner graduated from New York University as an undergraduate and from Hofstra University and NYU with a J.D. and an M.B.A, respectively.
Development cases are controversial because they influence college acceptance decisions in non-transparent ways. The use of development cases has been compared to racial and legacy preferences because large donors tend to be from non-diverse backgrounds. Schools and admissions officers have defended their use of development cases because admitting a few weak students who will bring in excessive donor money benefits the other students at the school. Alumni contributions are a significant part of voluntary donation, with $7.1 billion contributed in 2004-5, accounting for 28% of all voluntary support.  An extensive analysis of donor giving concluded that some donations were made with the hope of a higher admissions probability for a child.
Daniel Golden, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Wall Street Journal with a B.A. from Harvard, is probably the most vocal writer on the topic. He has published several articles and a book on the topic. His articles have drawn responses from universities such as Duke, which was specifically named in several of the articles, as well as Kushner Companies in response to Golden's addressing of Jared Kushner in the book.
- Roman, Caitlin. "Ivy admissions prompt frenzy: Shift away from early-action programs may result in lower matriculation yield at Yale". YaleDailyNews. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
- Hernandez, Michele A. (2009). A is for admission : the insider's guide to getting into the Ivy League and other top colleges (1st rev. ed. ed.). New York, NY: Grand Central Pub. ISBN 978-0446540674.
- Golden, Daniel. "WSJ.com - Many Colleges Bend Rules To Admit Rich Applicants". online.wsj.com. Wall Street Journal Online. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
- Golden, Daniel (2007). The price of admission : how America's ruling class buys its way into elite colleges--and who gets left outside the gates (1st pbk. ed. ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-1400097975.
- Goldstein, Zachary. "For legacies, age-old perks in admissions are still in swing". The Dartmouth. The Dartmouth. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
- Asch, Joseph. "Donor Admissions: How It Works Now". DartBlog. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
- Golden, Daniel (18 November 2016). "How did ‘less than stellar’ high school student Jared Kushner get into Harvard?". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
- "Duke Discusses Admissions Issues Raised in WSJ Article". Duke Today. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
- "The 2006-7 Almanac". Chronicle of Higher Education. p. 30. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
- Meer, Jonathan; Rosen, Harvey S. (2009). "Altruism and the Child Cycle of Alumni Donations". American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 1 (1): 258–286. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
- Golden, Daniel (10 September 2006). "How Lowering the Bar Helps Colleges Prosper". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 12 July 2017.