Legacy college admissions could soon be a thing of the past in Virginia

Legacy college admissions could soon be a thing of the past in Virginia

(AP photo/Steve Helber)

By Carolyn Fiddler

January 26, 2024

This week, the Virginia Senate gave final approval to a bill that would end the practice of “legacy admissions” at the state’s public universities.

“Legacy admissions” is a shorthand term for the practice of giving preferential treatment to college applicants who are related to alumni or donors.

“It’s about fairness. It’s about higher ed being available to everybody,” said Democratic Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, who sponsored the legislation.

The proposed legacy admissions ban stems from the US Supreme Court ruling last summer that race-conscious admission policies nationwide are unconstitutional.

Del. Dan Helmer, who is sponsoring an anti-legacy admissions bill in the House, explained that right-wing groups mistakenly believe race plays a disproportionate role in college admission decisions. He says that the real problem is the outsized influence of alumni status and donations in admissions.

“This is about fighting for working-class families to have access to every opportunity and making sure we support democracy and good jobs by providing pathways to the middle class through a college education, and you shouldn’t just be able to buy your way in,” said Helmer.

The Senate bill passed the chamber unanimously, and the House version has so far met with bipartisan support and no public opposition.

“Teaching in a classroom, every day, I see how hard these kids try to get into colleges, how much they stress over getting into colleges, and having all these things come together — the Supreme Court case, knowing that Virginia has a higher percentage of its universities use legacy admissions and kind of seeing the role it plays day to day in my day job — it was kind of a no brainer for me to put this bill in to try to make the process a little bit more merit based,” said VanValkenburg.

A spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin said the governor “believes admission to Virginia’s universities and colleges should be based on merit” but would not promise that the measure would be signed into law.

After last summer’s Supreme Court college admissions ruling, Virginia Tech announced it would no longer use legacy as a factor in its admissions decisions. The University of Virginia eliminated an application question asking prospective students if they were related to alumni, but applicants can still answer an optional essay question about their “personal or historic connection with UVA.” It’s not clear how many Virginia colleges and universities currently use legacy as an admission criterion.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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