Bills banning legacy admissions at VA’s public universities clear both chambers

Virginia state Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, right, shares a laugh with a visitor prior to a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday Jan. 10, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Isabel Soisson

February 1, 2024

Companion bills banning the practice of “legacy admissions” at Virginia’s public colleges and universities are on track to become law after the House passed its version earlier this week with a unanimous vote. 

Last week, the Senate version of the bill, introduced by Democratic Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, also passed with unanimous support. 

“Legacy admissions” is a shorthand term for the practice of giving preferential treatment to college applicants who are related to alumni or donors. The proposed ban on the practice in the Old Dominion comes after the US Supreme Court ended affirmative action at higher education institutions nationwide last year. Since that ruling, schools in Virginia, such as Virginia Tech, have begun changing their admissions policies. 

A study by think tank Education Reform Now identified Virginia as one of five states where a majority of public colleges and universities offer admissions advantages to the children of alumni. The study also found that “most beneficiaries of legacy preferences are white” nationwide. 

Democratic Del. Dan Helmer, who introduced the bill in the House, has said 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.

Helmer spoke about the bill at a subcommittee meeting earlier this month. 

“All that House Bill 48 says is that in considering admissions to college and our public universities here in the commonwealth of Virginia, whether your parents went there or whether your parents are donors to the institution, will play no role in deciding who is accepted to the college,” he said.

Now, both bills must pass in opposite chambers before they are sent to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for his consideration. Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez has said that “the governor will review any legislation that comes to his desk” and that he “believes admission to Virginia’s universities and colleges should be based on merit.”

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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