Colorado Becomes First State to Ban ‘Legacy Admissions’ for Higher Education

May 27, 2021 Updated: May 27, 2021

Colorado on Tuesday became the first state to ban legacy admissions at public colleges and universities.

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill (pdf) that puts an end to public higher education officials giving preference to candidates with familial relationships to alumni of an institution, arguing that the system disproportionately harms first-generation college students, people of color and those living in the country illegally.

The bill states that “a state-supported institution of higher education shall not consider a legacy preference … as eligible criteria for admission standards.”

“Just because your parent or grandparent went to one of our colleges in Colorado, that doesn’t mean that you automatically get in,” Polis said in a statement. “Because that could take the spot of somebody who is more worthy of that spot.”

According to the language of the bill, nearly 63 percent of White students and 67 percent of middle- to high-income students enroll in a bachelor’s degree program right after high school in the state, compared with only 42 percent of Latino students and 47 percent of low-income students who enroll directly from high school.

“There are significant racial and socioeconomic disparities among students who enroll in higher education institutions,” the bill states.

Providing preferential treatment to students with familial relationships to alumni of the institution is “discriminatory in nature” and hurts students who are undocumented, first-generation, immigrants, or underrepresented minorities and who do not have the same relationships to Colorado higher education institutions, it says.

“This bill will help move us in a direction where our higher education institutions are moving towards being meritocracies—meaning that you have to earn admission because of who you are and what you can do and what your potential is, not who your parents or grandparents were,” the Democratic governor said after signing the bill.

Several universities are considering ending their practice of legacy admissions, following behind Johns Hopkins University, which made its announcement in January 2020. Texas A&M University made the decision to abolish its legacy program in 2004.

In October 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law requirements for colleges to disclose whether they give preferential admissions to applicants related to donors or alumni. The bill came in response to the college admissions scandal that revealed dozens of wealthy families paid bribes to get their children into elite California universities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.