The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Photo by Aaron Josephson.
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Photo by Aaron Josephson.

We spend so much time focusing on the things that left and right disagree about that we sometimes miss the things they agree on.

Here’s something they’re starting to agree on: It’s time to end legacy admissions to college.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, those on the left were quick to point out that legacy admission programs amounted to set-asides for white applicants (on the well-founded theory that historically most college students have been white).

Attorney General Jason Miyares. Official portrait.
Attorney General Jason Miyares. Official portrait.

Now we’re seeing some on the right raising the same concern. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (like me, a graduate of James Madison University) recently authored a commentary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Want a diverse college campus? End legacy admissions.”

“Many colleges and universities across the country have come out publicly opposing the Supreme Court’s ruling that affirmative action is unconstitutional, saying that this will harm the chances for minorities and low-income students to get into college,” Miyares wrote. “But the great irony is these same schools actively give affluent, connected students unique resources and special treatment through legacy admissions.”

He called the legacy system “archaic” and said that “higher education must follow the Supreme Court’s lead and end the superficial legacy admissions system so the door to higher education is truly open to everyone.”

When the state’s top lawyer issues such a powerful call-out of policies at some state universities — for whom he is ultimately the attorney — I have to wonder if there’s more to this op-ed than simply the attorney general offering his personal views.

Two days before Miyares’ commentary appeared, Virginia Tech announced that it would end legacy admissions. That was an announcement of some significance: The Washington Post reports that about 12% of Tech’s students are related to alumni but that 20% of the incoming class are considered legacies.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story. With Virginia Tech’s policy change, there are only three state-supported colleges in Virginia that consider family connections in admission: the College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia and Virginia Military Institute.

Let’s look at each of these.


Here’s what VMI spokesman Bill Wyatt told me via email: “Appointments to VMI are based on many factors. First and foremost are high school and academic GPA and rigor. We also consider test scores (though optional), athletic and extracurricular activities, leadership and community service, and letters of recommendation. Legacy status is considered but it is the least significant of an applicant’s characteristics. An applicant cannot receive an appointment to VMI on their legacy status alone.”

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia also shows that VMI’s acceptance rate has been trending higher over the years and for 2022-23 was 71.1%. If nearly three-quarters of applicants are being accepted, the legacy factor may not be that important.

William & Mary

Here’s what William & Mary spokeswoman Suzanne Clavet sent me: “William & Mary is still reviewing the Supreme Court’s opinion regarding affirmative action and other court filings to understand if there are implications to the university’s current comprehensive process for selection. We also await guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and Virginia state agencies related to this, which we anticipate in the coming weeks.”

She also said: “Currently an applicant may indicate that one or more parents attended the university as part of their application. This variable is then recorded in our applicant database. Approximately 8% of this year’s class are considered legacies.”

William & Mary’s acceptance rate is 33.5%, according to SCHEV, and has become lower — more selective — over time, so getting into the Williamsburg school is harder, thus making the legacy factor more important.

University of Virginia 

A day before Miyares’ commentary appeared, the University of Virginia changed its admissions policies as they related to legacies, “though it is not going so far as to eliminate the practice,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

Applicants will no longer be asked “to check a box identifying them as relatives of alumni,” Inside Higher Ed reported. “Instead, they have the option of responding to a supplemental essay question about their ‘personal or historic connection with UVA. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs.’”

That definition expands our traditional understanding of the term “legacy admission.”

Spokeswoman Bethanie Glover says that “Last year, for newly enrolled students, 8.1% of Virginians and 4.7% of non-Virginians had parents who graduated from UVA.” College Transitions says that for the school’s entire student body, 14% are legacies.

SCHEV data shows that UVa accepted 24.9% of its applicants, making it the most selective state-supported school in Virginia.

If there’s a political fight in Virginia over legacy admissions, this is where it will be: The University of Virginia has the state’s highest rate of legacies (for state-supported schools) and the most selective admissions.

As with many things, context is in order: At Harvard, 36% of the student body are legacy students, according to a survey by the Harvard Crimson newspaper. A complaint filed by Black and Latino groups with the U.S. Department of Education this summer said that while Harvard’s overall acceptance rate is 3.2%, somehow 42% of applicants who are related to donors are admitted while 34% of applicants with other family connections are admitted. The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating. 

Harvard seems to be, by far, the outlier. At Southern California and Stanford, legacy students account for about 14% of the student body, according to a study by the Associated Press. AP said it received data from just eight of the nation’s most 30 selective colleges, and at those eight the average was about 12%. 

So far, Colorado is the only state to ban legacy admissions; it did so in 2021.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision that eliminates affirmative action as a tool to put together a diverse student body, we’re likely to see legislative attempts in some states to ban legacy admissions as another way to promote diversity. Even before the ruling, there were legacy-banning bills introduced in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. In Congress, 40 Democrats have now signed on to legislation to ban legacy admissions. Some Republicans have also expressed opposition to the practice, but voiced concern that federal legislation is not the way to end it. However, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination, has called for an end to legacy admissions.

We know what happens when a school abolishes legacy admissions: Its student body becomes more diverse. Amherst College in Massachusetts announced in 2021 that it would abandon legacy admissions. “Last year, in the first cycle since the changes, Amherst saw its largest ever increase in first-generation college students, a group that accounted for almost one-fifth of the incoming freshman class,” Rolling Stone reports. 

Now for the big question: Will we see a legislative push in Virginia to ban legacy admissions? And if we do, will it come from Democrats or Republicans — or both?

Even without legacy admissions, Radford has a lot of children of alumni

When I contacted Virginia’s state-supported colleges about their admissions policies, perhaps the most interesting one I received was for Radford University. Radford spokesman Justin Ward said that Radford doesn’t use legacy as a factor in admissions but collects the data anyway. “Of our fall 2023 applicants, 24.2% identify as legacy,” he said.

What that tells me is that Radford alumni must have been satisfied with their college experience; otherwise, we wouldn’t see so many of their children wanting to go there.

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at