Friday, June 21

Virginia Moves 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 who apply for admission.

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

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

The ban, which would affect two of the country’s more selective public universities, the University of Virginia and William & Mary, is another indication that legacy admissions, which mostly benefit students who are white, wealthy and well-connected, are losing favor across the country. Virginia Tech, another prestigious public university in the state, announced last year that it would no longer take legacy status into account.

Legacy admissions became a target last year soon after the Supreme Court banned race-conscious admissions. President Biden said that legacy preferences expand “privilege instead of opportunity.”

After the Supreme Court 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 check-off on its application asking if prospective students were legacies.

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

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

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

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

The bill in Virginia, which must still undergo more legislative maneuvering before going to the governor for signature, would also ban the consideration of “donor status” in admissions to state institutions. Under that practice, wealthy parents or other relatives might 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 Democrat, Republican or independent, want a university system that admits students based on who they are and what they’ve done, not who their parents are,” Mr. Helmer said.

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

The University of Virginia, where legacy admissions have sometimes accounted for as much as 14 percent of an entering class, recently tweaked its admissions application to eliminate a check-box for legacy status, but said students could still indicate in their admissions essays whether they were legacies.

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

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

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

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