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California bill would ban legacy admissions at private universities

Andrew Sheeler, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the practice of race-based college admissions, also known as affirmative action. Now, a new bill introduced in the California Legislature seeks to end the practice of giving preferential college admission to people whose family members were alumni or big donors.

Assembly Bill 1780 marks San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting’s second attempt at ending the practice of “legacy admissions” at California’s private colleges and universities. While the bill does not prohibit legacy admissions directly, it would deny Cal Grant funding — a major source of university revenue — to any school that engages in the practice. (Public colleges and universities already do not take legacy into consideration when weighing admissions.)

“Unfortunately we saw last year that the Supreme Court disallowed the consideration of race in college admissions, but what they didn’t do was disallow the knowledge of income or class in college admissions,” Ting said at a press conference unveiling his bill.

He cited a study that found that children of people making more than $611,000 a year were twice as likely to be admitted than were children from middle- and low-income families who had comparable test scores.

“The fact that they have complete access, they have a backdoor, they have a side door, they have an express lane into our most elite institutions, I’m very, very concerned about that,” Ting said.

Ting previously introduced a similar bill, Assembly Bill 697, in 2019, in response to the “Varsity Blues” scandal that uncovered the practice of wealthy people essentially paying to get their children into exclusive colleges. That bill later was amended to just require private universities annually report their preferential treatment admission numbers to the state.

Some of California’s most prominent private universities engage in preferential admissions of students whose parents are alumni or donors.

In 2022, nearly 14% of Stanford University’s new admissions had ties to donors or alumni, according to Ting’s office. Other private universities with double-digit legacy admission rates include University of Southern California (14%) and Santa Clara University (13%).

Speaking in favor of Ting’s bill Wednesday was Stanford student Sophie Callcott, herself a legacy student; she said her parents met as law students at Stanford.


“And as a legacy student, I can wholeheartedly say I wish the legacy practice to end. Personally, I do not want my achievements to be overshadowed or questioned by the possibility that I only got into Stanford because my parents went there,” she said.

Representatives for Stanford did not respond to The Bee’s request for comment by deadline.

Richard Ford, a Stanford Law professor, told The Bee that, while he hadn’t seen the text of the legislation, he saw no reason such a law wouldn’t stand up in court.

“It’s perfectly legal,” he said.

Ford said that the effect of the bill, if it becomes law, “would almost certainly result in the universities in question dropping the legacy admissions.”

Ford, who said that the SCOTUS decision on race-based admissions was unfortunate, said that Ting’s bill on its own was a good thing, but that he has some concerns if it is followed up with other legislation that does away with colleges and universities being able to exercise discretion in admissions beyond just test scores and grade point averages.

“My own view is that university admissions do and should include lots of things that cannot be measured by grades and tests,” he said.


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