The U.S. Department of Education has officially opened an investigation into Harvard University's donor and legacy admissions preferences in response to a federal civil rights complaint filed earlier this month.

Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, who is representing the Greater Boston area nonprofits that filed the discrimination complaint, announced the investigation at a press conference Tuesday morning. Litigation director Oren Sellstrom said colleges that refuse to drop donor and legacy preferencing will one day be seen as "outliers."

"Simply put, Harvard is on the wrong side of history,” Sellstrom said at the press conference.

According to the complaint, students who receive special donor and legacy preferences are significantly more likely to be accepted than other applicants, and constitute up to 15% of Harvard’s admitted students. Harvard issued a statement that said the university was already reviewing its admissions policies in the wake of last month's Supreme Court decision severely curtailing the consideration of race in college admissions.

"Our review includes examination of a range of data and information, along with learnings from Harvard’s efforts over the past decade to strengthen our ability to attract and support a diverse intellectual community that is fundamental to our pursuit of academic excellence," Harvard's statement read. "As this work continues, and moving forward, Harvard remains dedicated to opening doors to opportunity and to redoubling our efforts to encourage students from many different backgrounds to apply for admission.”

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights will undertake the investigation and review the case.

"Please note that opening the complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the complaint," the agency said in a letter. "During the investigation, OCR is a neutral factfinder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the Complainant, the University, and other sources, as appropriate."

They did not offer a timeline for a decision.

The initial complaint was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of three Greater Boston nonprofits: the Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network.

It argued that it's even more important to eliminate policies that systematically disadvantage students of color in the zero sum game of college admissions.

Nearly 70% of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white and receive a significant boost based on their class and alumni family status.

Donor-related applicants are nearly seven times more likely to be admitted than non-donor-related applicants; and legacies are nearly six times more likely to be admitted, according to the complaint. Nearly one in three members of the class of 2019, for example, were legacies with a parent or other relative who went to Harvard.

Student advocates have said that as a result, qualified and highly deserving applicants of color are harmed because admissions slots are given overwhelmingly to white applicants.

A new survey of elite college enrollment also released this week found that very wealthy students are much more likely to be admitted to highly selective colleges compared to middle- and lower-income students.

Researchers at Harvard, Brown and Stanford studied what factors lead high-income students to be more likely to attend selective colleges and then land prestigious jobs. They found that the wealthiest students from the very top of the income distribution were more than twice as likely to be admitted to Ivy League and other prestigious colleges than students from middle-income homes.

“Having the gateway to those positions at these schools be particularly open to students from the top of the parental income distribution isn't going to give us that broad opportunity for students from all backgrounds," said economist John Friedman, who led the study.

Friedman said there are some changes to admission policies that would immediately increase socioeconomic diversity on and off campus, including dropping legacy preferences for the children of alumni.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.