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A Cloudy Future For Legacy Admissions At PA Colleges and Universities

Swarthmore College

Following the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down affirmative action in admissions at both public and private colleges and universities, state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) wants to go one step further in the Keystone State.

Williams is proposing legislation that “would ban legacy admissions at Pennsylvania’s public and private colleges and universities.”

He notes in his co-sponsorship memoranda that the high court “failed to outlaw meritless based “legacy admissions,” which is the practice of favoring applicants with family ties to alumni. Banning legacy admissions would be consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling which focuses on merit-based admissions rather than admissions based on preference.”

Williams’ proposal “would ensure that merit-based admissions is the standard and that preference is removed as a consideration in the college and university admission process.”

As colleges across the U.S. pledge their commitment to diversity following the court’s ruling, activists have a simple response: prove it. If schools want to enroll more Black, Hispanic and Indigenous students, activists say, removing legacy preferences would be an easy first step.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the school’s longstanding definition of a legacy applicant — the child or grandchild of an alum — has not changed. But the Ivy League institution has made one slight change to its information page for first-year applicants, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.

“Penn no longer implies that legacies should apply through the Early Decision Program to have the best shot at getting in. In addition, Penn has phased out admissions information sessions specifically for legacy families.”

The DP authored a story in March that indicated that “from 2017 to 2020, between 22 and 25% of applicants admitted to Penn during Early Decision were legacies.”

At Bucknell University, its website says that a legacy is “a descendant of a Bucknell alumna/alumnus, including parents and stepparents, grandparents and step-grandparents, and great-grandparents,” and states up front that “descendants of Bucknell alumni have access to special programs and events.” The school said between 6-9 percent of incoming students were legacies over the past decade.

Carnegie Mellon University says its alums are important, but “CMU’s admission process uses the same criteria for all applicants, regardless of legacy status. All applicants are evaluated fairly and individually throughout the review process.”

While 19 states have no public universities or colleges that provide a legacy preference, Penn State joins a number of public flagship universities continue to use the practice, including the University of Oklahoma, the University of Virginia, the University of Alabama, and the University of North Carolina.

Penn State grants legacy status to students whose parents attended the university, although the status is used only to determine which campus an applicant will be admitted to and only comes into play when a student is “on the threshold.”

Three private universities in California, including Pepperdine and the University of Southern California (USC), acknowledged to the state that in recent years they admitted some legacy students who did not meet their minimum admissions requirements, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“Ending racial preferences in college admissions is an outcome that the vast majority of all races and ethnicities will celebrate,” said Edward Blum, the founder and president of Students for Fair Admissions. “A university doesn’t have real diversity when it simply assembles students who look different but come from similar backgrounds and act, talk, and think alike.”

Williams says, “In banning legacy admissions at its public and private colleges and universities, Pennsylvania would be joining, Colorado which banned legacy admissions at public universities in 2021, and other states like in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York which have introduced similar bills.

“Now is the time to put an end to legacy admissions in Pennsylvania and to inject fairness into the process.”

One Response

  1. We have a spiraling student loan debt situation where student loans have eclipsed credit card debt and instead the focus is on legacy admissions??? Government should not substitute its judgement especially with private schools for those of seasoned professionals in higher education. Meanwhile the soaring student loan burden grows in society.


  • Understanding that basic education funding should/will be first, what should be the next highest priority for the General Assembly?

    • Raising The Minimum Wage (25%)
    • Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana (24%)
    • None of the above. Something Else. (20%)
    • Economic Development (14%)
    • Higher Education (8%)
    • Public Transportation (8%)
    • Workforce Opportunities and Innovation (2%)

    Total Voters: 51

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