Virginia Takes Steps to End Legacy Admissions at Its Public Universities

Virginia is on track to ban legacy preferences at its public universities, which give a boost to children of alumni applying for admission.

The state House of Delegates on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would eliminate preferences; the state Senate did so last week.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office indicated he would sign the legislation, saying in a statement that he “believes admission to Virginia’s colleges and universities should be based on merit.” The law would take effect July 1, after admissions decisions for fall 2024 have been made.

The ban, which would affect two of the country’s most selective public universities, the University of Virginia and William & Mary, is another sign that legacy admissions, which primarily benefit white, wealthy and well-connected students, are losing popularity in everyone. country. Virginia Tech, another prestigious public university in the state, Announced last year that it would no longer take into account legacy status.

Legacy admissions became a target last year, shortly after the Supreme Court banned racially motivated admissions. President Biden said legacy preferences expand “privileges rather than opportunities.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision in June, several highly selective private schools, including Wesleyan University, announced they would eliminate legacy preferences. And New York University said it would remove a box on its application that asked whether prospective students were legacies.

They joined several selective universities that had already eliminated or never used legacy preferences, including MIT, Johns Hopkins, Amherst College, and the University of California system.

The state of Colorado has banned legacy preferences at its public universities, and similar legislation has been introduced in the United States prohibiting the practice. Congress and in states like Connecticut and New York.

But many elite private universities – including Harvard, Yale and Brown – continue to give preference to children of alumni. Data recently released by the Department of Education found that nearly 600 colleges and universities consider legacy status upon admission.

Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania are the subject of federal Department of Education investigations into the use of legacy preferences and whether the practice constitutes a violation of civil rights. The Harvard investigation began following a complaint filed by three advocacy groups.

The bill in Virginia, which still must go through more legislative maneuvering before going to the governor for his signature, would also prohibit consideration of “donor status” in admissions to state institutions. Under that practice, wealthy parents or other relatives could secure admission for their children by donating funds for new buildings or programs.

Dan Helmer, a Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Virginia House, said the time had come to level the playing field.

“The vast majority of Virginians, regardless of whether they are Democrats, Republicans or Independents, want a university system that admits students based on who they are and what they have done, not who their parents are,” Helmer said.

Helmer, a West Point graduate, said none of the state’s universities had taken a public position against the legislation, although he suggested they might have lobbied privately. “A couple of universities may have stopped by,” he added, “and I said, ‘If you want to go on the record, you can.’”

The University of Virginia, where legacy admissions sometimes account for up to 14 percent of an incoming class, recently amended its admissions application to remove a check box for legacy status, but said students could still indicate on their essays admission if they were legacies.

In a statement Tuesday, Brian T. Coy, a spokesman for the University of Virginia, said it was the university’s policy not to comment on the pending legislation. “For decades, U.Va. “It has evaluated each candidate for college admission as an individual with a unique story and combination of strengths,” he said, “rather than using weighted methods and check boxes.”

A conservative Virginia alumni organization known as Jefferson Council has not taken a position on the legislation, according to its executive director, James A. Bacon.

“We are of two minds,” Bacon wrote in an email. On the one hand, he said, intergenerational families tend to be more loyal, committed and generous to the university. “On the other hand, we support admissions based on merit and character and academic achievement,” he wrote.

William & Mary also considers legacy admissions. In a statement, the university said it would comment on the potential impact of the bill after its final adoption. In the statement, a university spokeswoman, Suzanne Clavet, said the school’s data showed that accepted applicants who were legacy were more than twice as likely to enroll in the school as other accepted applicants.