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Virginia becomes second state to ban university legacy admissions

After the Supreme Court said universities could no longer consider an applicant's race, legacy-based admissions drew greater scrutiny.
Rotunda on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Posted at 9:34 AM, Mar 11, 2024

Virginia will become the second state to ban legacy admissions at public colleges and universities after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill that unanimously cleared the state legislature. 

The bill says public universities cannot give preferential admissions to college applicants based on their familial relationship to the school. Virginia joins Colorado as the only states to ban the practice. 

Applicants at the University of Virginia were "invited" to share their family's relationship to the university. The new law says the university can no longer use that information to accept an applicant. 

Legacy admissions came under greater scrutiny after the Supreme Court ruled last year in Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard that affirmative action programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This largely meant that universities could no longer consider an applicant's race in admissions. 

Affirmative action policies were put in place by a number of universities to boost admissions among historically underserved and discriminated groups. Several states had since banned the practice, but it remained widely used at some of the nation's top academic institutions.

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National Center for Education Statistics data indicates that 32% of all selective four-year colleges and universities said they consider "legacy status" in admissions. These schools are ones that don't have open enrollment policies. 

By comparison, over 40% of universities considered an applicant's work experience if provided. Nearly 2 out of 3 schools considered personal essays if provided. 

In the wake of last year's ruling on affirmative action, several universities said they would end legacy-based admission considerations. Among them was Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which said the practice had a "negligible role" in decisions. 

"We still value the ongoing relationships that come from multi-generational Wesleyan attendance, but there will be no 'bump' in the selection process. As has been almost always the case for a long time, family members of alumni will be admitted on their own merits," university President Michael Roth said.