Proposed bill would ban legacy admissions at all Minnesota colleges

A person wearing a green shirt listens at a desk
State Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul, introduced a bill Tuesday about legacy admissions.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

State officials are considering banning preferential treatment in college admissions for privileged students.

State Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would prohibit Minnesota colleges and universities from considering a person’s legacy status or relationship to a donor in admissions. An individual is considered “legacy” if their family members are alumnus of the school they are applying to.

“Admission decisions should be based on merit and academic achievement, not who’s in your family and certainly not based on how much money your family has donated to a university,” said Oumou Verbeten, speaking in the state Senate higher education committee.

The proposed bill would apply to both private and public colleges in Minnesota.

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The admissions practice came under scrutiny last year after the Supreme Court ruled against race-conscious admissions.

Data has shown legacy applicants skew white and wealthy. Additionally, legacy applicants are nearly four times as likely to be admitted as non-legacy applicants with the same test scores, according to one study by Opportunity Insights, a research group based at Harvard University.

A Washington Post analysis found “more than 100 selective schools, including the entire Ivy League, have declared that alumni-applicant relationships are considered in admissions decisions.”

The Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation into Harvard University in July after noting students with preferential treatment — recruited athletes, legacies, relatives of donors, and children of faculty and staff – made up less than 5 percent of applicants, but around 30 percent of admitted students, according to a court filing.

Last week, Virginia legislators unanimously voted to end legacy admissions at public universities starting July 1. Colorado banned the practice in 2021 — Inside Higher Ed reports more states are poised to follow suit following the Supreme Court ruling.

Most Minnesota colleges and universities report they already do not consider legacy or donor connections in admissions. MPR News confirmed they are not factors at the University of Minnesota, Carleton College, Augsburg University, Bethel University, Gustavus Adolphus College, the University of St. Thomas and in the Minnesota State system.

One of the state’s most selective colleges, Macalester College, said legacy consideration plays “a very minor role” in its admissions process.

“While it’s too soon to know exactly what this bill would do, if passed, we do not expect it to have a noticeable impact,” said Joe Linstroth, Macalester College spokesperson.

Still, Oumou Verbeten said it was important to codify the policy to ensure transparent, objective criteria for college entry.

“Maintaining this practice while prohibiting institutions from practicing affirmative action, it just exacerbates the inequities in higher education,” she said.

No one spoke against the bill in the committee meeting. The bill was held over without discussion from other legislators and could be included in the state Senate higher-education omnibus bill.