Virginia Bans Legacy Admissions at Public Colleges, Universities

Virginia is the second state to ban legacy admissions, a preference given to children of alums.
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Evan Castillo is a reporter on BestColleges News and wrote for the Daily Tar Heel during his time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He's covered topics ranging from climate change to general higher education news, and he is passiona...
Published on March 14, 2024
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  • Colorado was the first state to ban legacy admissions in 2021. The trend has picked up since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in college admissions in 2023.
  • Connecticut, California, Maryland, and Massachusetts all have bills going through their legislatures to ban legacy admissions or penalize institutions that use the practice.
  • A BestColleges study found that most students think legacy admissions practices are unfair.

Virginia has banned legacy admissions at its public colleges and universities.

Along with 63 other bills, Gov. Glenn Youngkin on March 8 signed House Bill 48 (HB 48). The bill was introduced by state Del. Dan Helmer and bans legacy admissions at the state's public higher education institutions.

The Virginia Senate unanimously voted to pass it in late January, after earlier approval from the House of Delegates. The bill was then signed into law by the governor and goes into effect July 1.

"Virginia showed we could work in a bipartisan way to end the practice of legacy preferences," state Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Proud to work with @HelmerVA to make our admissions process more fair and diverse!"

The bill describes "legacy status" as a higher ed applicant who has a familial relationship with an alum of that institution. No public college or university in Virginia will be allowed to give any preferential treatment to applicants based on their relationship to alums or donors of the institution.

Youngkin's signature makes Virginia the second state after Colorado and the first since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2023 affirmative action decision to ban legacy admissions at public institutions.

Most students also think legacy admissions practices are unfair. BestColleges found that nearly half (46%) of students said legacy admissions may have hurt their chances of getting into their preferred college.

Students said race/ethnicity and legacy status were the least important factors a college should consider when they accept an applicant.

Efforts to Ban Legacy Admissions by Colleges and Government

Colorado was the first state to ban legacy admissions in May 2021 when Gov. Jared Polis signed the ban and another bill that removed a requirement for public colleges to consider SAT or ACT scores for incoming first-year students.

While only two states have banned legacy admissions so far, individual colleges and universities have slowly banned the practice over the years. However, the topic has gained the attention of more college and government administrations since the 2023 ruling to ban affirmative action in college admissions.

Carleton College, Loyola Marymount University, Occidental College, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, and Wesleyan University ended legacy admissions after the ruling.

"We've placed less and less emphasis on legacy in recent years, to the point that it's not factoring into admissions decisions in any significant way, and yet our legacy numbers have remained really strong," Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management at Virginia Tech, previously said.

"While around 12% of our applications are legacy, they comprise over 20% of the incoming class. This demonstrates that legacy students are applying with all the academic and extracurricular preparation that they need to compete for admission."

Massachusetts legislators introduced a bill that would fine its public and private colleges for keeping legacy admissions and early decision application programs. Any fines would contribute to a fund for the state's community colleges.

Since the beginning of 2024, Connecticut, California, and Maryland have introduced bills in response to a growing distaste for legacy admissions.

"We're told that opportunities are available to anyone who works hard and gets good grades. But that's simply not true," Assemblymember Phil Ting, who introduced California's bill, previously stated. "There's a side door for students who come from wealth or have connections."

On the national level, U.S. Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Tim Kaine, D-Va. introduced a bipartisan bill last November — the Merit-Based Educational Reforms and Institutional Transparency Act (MERIT Act).

This is the second bill in two years to propose ending legacy admissions at the national level. Nine Democratic lawmakers in 2022 introduced a bill to decline federal aid to institutions that give preference to legacy applicants. However, the bill hasn't moved since.