Apr 2, 2024 - News

Private colleges could face legacy admissions penalty

A fountain in front of a chapel at University of San Diego.

University of San Diego's campus. Photo: Kate Murphy/Axios

Private colleges and universities in California could be penalized for continuing to use legacy admissions under a bill in the state Legislature.

Why it matters: The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down race-conscious admissions led to renewed scrutiny of preferential treatment for applicants connected to alums and donors — commonly known as legacy admissions, Axios SF's Shawna Chen reports.

State of play: The decades-old practice, which was first used to maintain white Protestant student populations, means that elite colleges are more than twice as likely to admit a student from a high-income family than a student from a low- or middle-income family, even when test scores are comparable, per a 2023 study by Harvard economists.

Driving the news: The bill, spearheaded by Assembly member Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would bar private colleges and universities in California from receiving state funding through the Cal Grant program if they give preferential treatment to applicants related to a donor or alum.

  • The legislation would not ban colleges from admitting these students, but aims to ensure their status doesn't unfairly give them a leg up, Ting says.

Catch up quick: Cal Grant offers eligible students financial aid that doesn't need to be paid back. More than 360 schools are eligible for the program, including USD, SDSU and UCSD.

Zoom in: The state's public colleges have said they don't use preferential admissions.

  • The University of San Diego, which is private, told Axios it does not consider alumni or legacy status in its admission decisions.
  • Point Loma Nazarene University did not respond to Axios' request for comment Monday.

Yes, but: Data reported to the state shows that at private schools Stanford, USC and Santa Clara University, up to 14% admitted for fall 2022 had ties to alumni or donors.

  • That percentage is almost as high as the percentage of Latino students in their most recent freshman classes — and about two times higher than the percentage of African Americans.

The intrigue: A recent Brookings analysis indicated that ending legacy admissions would likely not have a substantial effect on diversity.

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