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Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Pipeline to privilege: California considers legacy ban

Jeslyn Chen

Imagine working hard all your life, trying to achieve your goals. Then, imagine being passed over by an admissions officer for someone simply because of who their parents are. That’s legacy admissions.

According to the New York Times, legacy admissions is a practice where certain colleges “give a boost during the admissions process to the children or grandchildren of alumni, making them more likely to gain admission.”

According to that same article, 42% of private universities consider legacy admissions, while only six percent of public universities use it.

Although legacy brings advantages to some, many people, such as California State Assemblymember Phil Ting, representing San Francisco, think that legacy admissions are unfair.

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“I believe strongly in the value of diversity in higher education,” Ting said.“We’re told that opportunities are available to anyone who works hard and gets good grades. But that’s simply not true. There’s a side door for students who come from wealth or have connections.”

Having relatives who attended a university that practices legacy admissions can be a leg up for students applying to that college. According to Stanford’s 2020 annual admissions report, the acceptance rate for students whose parents were alumni or were donors was four times higher than the overall acceptance rate.

Legacy students are more likely to come from rich, white families, according to the New York Times.

Ting wants to even the playing field for underrepresented students. This past February, he introduced a bill, AB 1780, to ban legacy admissions for all private California colleges. Public California colleges do not practice legacy admissions.

After it passes the House Appropriations Committee, the California House of Representatives will vote on the bill sometime in May, according to Ting’s communications director, Nanette Miranda.

We’re told that opportunities are available to anyone who works hard and gets good grades. But that’s simply not true.

— Phil Ting, California State Assemblymember

Ting previously attempted to introduce a bill that would ban legacy admissions in 2019, in the wake of the 2019 college admissions scandal, a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions at several US colleges. Under the proposed bill, California colleges would face the penalty of losing funding for CalGrants if they defied the bill and continued to prefer legacy students. CalGrants are financial scholarships awarded to California college students who attend eligible colleges in California.

Ultimately, the 2019 bill failed because of concerns that the removal of funding for CalGrants would negatively impact lower-income students. According to Miranda, the bill was changed to require colleges to report data on legacy admissions.

This collected data, along with the nationwide end of affirmative action, a practice that sought to benefit marginalized groups, serves as the basis for this new bill that would ban legacy admissions in California once and for all. However, unlike the previous 2019 bill, AB 1780 does not reduce funding for CalGrants as punishment for colleges that continue to take into account legacy.

“The bill now assesses a civil penalty on private colleges and universities in California … that practice legacy/donor admissions,” Miranda said.

According to Miranda, the bill would fine universities that practice legacy admissions based on their past CalGrant receipts.

“The fine against would be equal to the amount of CalGrants the schools received the prior year,” Miranda said. “For instance, in 2022-23, Stanford received $3.2 million CalGrants and USC [University of Southern California] received $26.6 million. Those would be the fines right now if the bill were in effect. So we’ve taken the approach of penalizing schools, not students.”

USC, a California private college that practices legacy admissions, has not taken a position on AB 1780. In a statement, USC said “admitted students meet our high academic standards through a contextualized holistic review that values each student’s lived experience.”

They also emphasized their commitment to accepting low income students.

According to their statement, “for the 2022-23 academic year, 22% of admitted students were first-generation college students, 28% were from historically under-represented groups and 74% were students of color.”

Senior Kevin Shi said he thinks the ban could present a practical issue for universities and their fundraising efforts.

“Overall … I don’t think it’s a good idea to have legacy, ” Shi said. “Ideally, there’s no legacy because I think who your parents are, where they went to school, shouldn’t really decide whether you can get into a college or not, but at the same time, a lot of colleges get a lot of their funding from alumni and that’s why they probably have a legacy.”

Shi said he thinks too many legacy students is a problem.

Who your parents are, where they went to school, shouldn’t really decide whether you can get into a college or not.

— Palo Alto High School senior Kevin Shi

“According to Stanford’s website, their rate [of legacy students] is around 15% … I think something [like] that is okay or maybe on the high side, but obviously if a school had say, 50% legacy, that would be a problem,” Shi said. “I think policymakers could maybe do something to prevent those extreme cases from happening, but if you’re looking at a moderate range, like 20 [percent] or below, I think it’s ok.”

Shi said he is committed to attend Stanford University in the fall, but he has no legacy or connections to the university.

Despite assertions that legacy admissions preferences are necessary for universities to generate sufficient funding through their alumni, schools such as Johns Hopkins University, Amherst College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which have eliminated the practice in recent years, have reported that their funding has remained steady despite the change.

Shi said he thinks that banning legacy admissions is a step too far, but the government should take steps to limit it.

“I don’t think banning [legacy admissions] would be a good idea,” Shi said. “Maybe setting a rough limit on how much of the class can be from legacy. Do something to make sure that it’s not too big of a factor. I think it would make sense for the government … to be able to set some rules.”