Virginia university, Legacy Admissions

Virginia Becomes Second State To Ban Legacy Admissions For Public Universities

House Bill 48 eliminates the consideration of donor or alumni ties in the college admissions process.

Virginia became the second state to ban the long-standing practice of allowing preferential treatment because of legacy admissions in the college admissions process after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the bill on March 8.

House Bill 48, passed unanimously by Virginia’s legislative bodies, eliminates the consideration of donor or alumni ties in the college admissions process. After the Supreme Court gutted affirmative action in the admissions process, the speculation was that legacy admissions would be next, but it has been a slow process compared to the continued backlash against diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

As Scripps News reports, there have only been two states to ban legacy admissions: Virginia and Colorado. Several universities, however, had independently declared that they would end the practice, and in Virginia, private universities can still use legacy admissions if they choose to.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) tweeted that he hopes this is the beginning of a nationwide movement to ban legacy admissions.

Kaine and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) introduced legislation in Nov. 2023 aimed at ending the practice nationwide through an amendment to the Higher Education Act. Their bill, the Merit-Based Educational Reforms and Institutional Transparency Act, (MERIT Act), would prevent accredited colleges and universities from allowing “preferential treatment” to shape the admissions process.

According to Young, “America is a land of opportunity, not a land of aristocracy. Legacy admissions restrict opportunities for many bright and talented young Americans and provide unmerited advantage to the most connected individuals in our society. Our bill will end legacy preferences in the admissions process and promote upward mobility for Americans of all backgrounds.”

In the same press release highlighting the aims of the MERIT Act, Kaine said, “A student’s acceptance into a college should not hinge on whether their parents attended that school or donated a large sum of money.”

“This legislation would help bring more fairness to the higher education admissions process, and ensure that first-generation and low-income students are not put at a disadvantage because of their parents’ educational histories or incomes,” he added.  

In August 2023, The New Yorker argued that the end of legacy admissions would be a net positive, and may eventually lead to arguments in favor of reparations because many of the nation’s most selective institutions of higher education did not admit Black students in significant numbers until the 1960s and 1970s. Even then, the small percentage of Black students who have been at those universities translates to Black people having approximately two generations of alumni despite being in America ever since its inception.

“Once the affirmative-action-bound language of the Court’s previous instructions is swept away, and schools are no longer legally incentivized to talk about race in admissions in terms of ‘diversity’ or even any sort of ‘holistic’ evaluation, we could end up with a more frank and substantive discussion about equity, including not only descent from enslaved people but also severe disadvantage from state-sponsored subordination, first-generation-college-student status, and family income and wealth,” Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote in her piece. “Many untold possibilities might open up if we look hard for alternative ways to unlock education as a means to social mobility.”

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