California Lawmakers Propose a Ban on Legacy Admissions to Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

A package of bills proposed banning legacy admissions at California universities among other reforms in the wake of the Operation Varsity Blues scandal.  Democratic lawmakers in California proposed the legislation yesterday. The reforms proposed come just weeks after the elite college cheating scandal laid bare some of the more egregious (and allegedly criminal) tactics rich families have used to get their kids in.  As reported in the Huffington Post:

“The legislative package proposed includes six bills, with one that would ban preferential admissions to California colleges for students related to donors or alumni (also known as “legacy” admissions); another bill would require any special admissions or “admissions by exception” to get approval from three administrative staff members; another would require college admissions firms and consultants to register with the Secretary of State’s office; and one proposes a study be conducted on the need for the SAT and ACT to determine admissions.

The goal of the package of bills proposed is for no student to “gain advantage over another because of their family’s wealth or social connections,” per a release from the lawmakers.  

“It’s time to close the wealthy’s side door to college,” Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) wrote on Facebook ahead of a press conference announcing the proposed reforms.

“For every student admitted through bribery, there is an honest and talented student denied access to college,” McCarty said in the press release, noting the legislative package aimed to “protect the sanctity of the admissions process.”

Earlier this month, dozens of people were charged by the FBI in an elite college admission scheme, in which wealthy parents ― including celebrity actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman ― allegedly paid bribes to ensure that their children were accepted to schools such as Yale, Stanford and the University of Southern California. The alleged scheme included parents paying for their kids to cheat on exams and apply to schools as student athletes, whether or not they actually had any skills in the relevant sport.

The University of California said in a statement to HuffPost that it shared “legislators’ outrage and concerns over the illegal and unethical actions” of those involved in the alleged scam.

“UC and legislators are aligned on the goal of ensuring a level playing field for every applicant, regardless of income, social status, or influence,” the University of California added, noting that its policies forbid “legacy admissions.”

The California lawmakers expected the proposals to be heard in committee after next month’s spring recess, per the release.

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who was behind the bill that would ban preferential admissions to students connected to donors or alumni, said it was an issue of “fairness and equality,” according to the release.  

“We raise our kids to believe that if they work hard, all opportunities will be open to them. But that’s just not true when it comes to college,” said Ting. “We must close the side door that enables privileged families to get their children into elite colleges, taking the place of deserving students.”

As news of the bribery admissions scandal broke, many people pointed out that higher education admissions were already rigged to favor wealthy and white students ― even before reaching the point of criminality.

Experts HuffPost spoke to earlier this month pointed to wealthy families in the U.S. buying their kids’ way into college with large donations to schools, or simply by providing extra tutors, essay coaches and interview prep professionals to give their kids a leg up in getting into schools.

Perhaps the most egregious issue of all was legacy admissions, the experts noted ― or students being more likely to get accepted to a school simply because a parent or other relative attended. 

“This scandal is just the extreme, the illegal extreme, but it’s in a continuum with legacy admissions … with all these other thumbs on the scale that wealthy kids get that are legal,” Susan Dynarski, professor of economics, education and public policy at the University of Michigan, told HuffPost earlier this month.

“If you look around a college campus and you’re thinking about who got in because of a thumb on the scale, it’s the rich white legacy kids,” she added.

It will be interesting to see if other universities especially the well-endowed private colleges follow suit.


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