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Colorado Becomes 1st State To Ban Legacy College Admissions

Legacy admissions have long been a target for reform.

Updated May 27, 2021 at 2:54 PM ET

When someone applies to college, there's often a box or a section on the application that asks about any relatives who attended the university — perhaps a parent or a cousin. This is called "legacy," and for decades it's given U.S. college applicants a leg up in admissions. But no longer in Colorado's public colleges.

On Tuesday, Colorado became the first state to do away with that admissions boost when Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a ban on the practice into law. The governor also signed a bill that removes a requirement that public colleges consider SAT or ACT scores for freshmen, though the new law still allows students to submit test scores if they wish.

Both moves are aimed at making higher education access more equitable. According to the legislation, 67% of middle- to high-income students in Colorado enroll in bachelor's degree programs straight from high school, while 47% of low-income students do. There are also major differences when it comes to race, with white students far more likely to enroll in college.

Legacy admissions have long been a target for reform. In a 2018 survey of admissions directors by Inside Higher Ed, 42% of private institutions and 6% of public institutions said they consider legacy status as a factor in admissions. Some of the nation's largest public universities do not consider legacy, including both the University of California and the California State University systems. However, private colleges in California have reported using legacy as a way to encourage philanthropic giving and donations.

During the pandemic, many colleges backed off on using SAT and ACT scores in admissions. Research has shownand lawsuits have argued — that the tests, long used to measure aptitude for college, are far more connected to family income and don't provide meaningful information about a student's ability to succeed in college. Wealthier families are also more likely to pay for test prep courses, or attend schools with curricula that focus on the exams.

As pandemic restrictions loosen up, and in-person testing resumes, some universities have begun to reincorporate the SAT and ACT into their admissions. But others have made the temporary changes permanent. That includes Washington state's public universities, which announced earlier this month that its schools will no longer require test scores for admission.

This spring, the University of California system agreed to continue a test-free admissions policy through 2025. California sends the largest number of high school students to U.S. colleges, and if the UC system no longer uses the tests, it's unclear whether those students will be interested in applying to other schools that do require them.

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