Last month, Colorado became the first state in the nation to ban the consideration of a student’s legacy status in the admission process.
The new law applies to Colorado’s public colleges and is aimed at reducing economic and racial disparities within higher education.
“As a first-generation college student raised by a single mom, I can remember the anxiety I felt filling out the college application when they asked if I had family that had attended the institution,” Colorado state Rep. Kyle Mullica told CNN.
“I remember wondering if I said ‘no’ if it would hurt my chance at getting in,” noted Mullica, one of the bill’s sponsors. “With House Bill 1173 we are making sure students get into school based on merit and their hard work, and not their family relationship to the school.”
Students of color are less likely to have a parent who graduated from college than white students. As such, they are unfairly disadvantaged in the admission process, as are first-generation college students from any racial or ethnic background, proponents of the bill say.
“Legacy preferences, almost by definition, help the already advantaged,” Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told CNN. “If we want a genuine meritocracy, then we would want to give extra consideration to students who have overcome hurdles because their academic record probably doesn’t reflect their full potential. Legacy preferences do precisely the opposite.”
In recent years, a number of institutions, including Johns Hopkins University (MD), have removed legacy questions from their applications. Colorado is unique because it is the first state to ban the practice. Colorado also recently removed its mandate that public colleges must consider ACT and SAT scores in the admission of first-year students.
In an op-ed published earlier this spring by The Colorado Sun, Mullica said the legacy ban would help “level the playing field,” but noted that more needs to be done to remove barriers for underrepresented students.
“This is by no means the largest layer of inequity in the higher education space,” Mullica wrote in a piece co-authored by Colorado state Sen. Brittany Pettersen. “A lack of state funding and an inequitable K-12 system are much larger drivers of inequity. Nonetheless, all systems of inequity that negatively impact our most marginalized students, no matter how large or small, should be dismantled.”
Mary Stegmeir is a freelance writer and editor. She formerly served as NACAC’s assistant director for editorial content and outreach.