By Patty Nieberg, The Associated Press/Report for America
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill Tuesday making the state a leader in the nationwide effort to ban legacy admissions at public colleges and universities.
Prateek Dutta, Colorado Policy Director for Democrats for Education Reform, who brought the bill idea to state lawmakers, said Colorado is the first state he has found to have enacted such a law.
The bill prohibits public higher education officials from looking at “legacy preference,” or familial relationships to alumni of the institution, in their admissions process.
“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. “Because that could take the spot of somebody who is more worthy of that spot.”
Legacy admissions can disproportionately harm Coloradans who are first-generation college students, people of color or those who are living in the country illegally, he added.
State Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat and prime sponsor of the legacy-admissions bill, was a first-generation college student himself.
“I remember feeling nervous when they asked that question if I had family that had attended the school, wondering if that was going to hurt me or not,” he said. “The whole point of this is to create a level playing field.”
In Colorado, nearly 63% of white students and 67% of middle- to high-income students enroll in a bachelor’s degree program right after high school compared with only 42% of Latino students and 47% of low-income students who enroll directly from high school, according to the bill’s text.
“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,” Polis said.
While several states have tried to ban affirmative action based on race, Colorado seems to be the first to ban “affirmative action for the rich, aka legacy preferences,” said Richard Kahlenberg, director of K–12 equity and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive, independent think tank.
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.
Polis also signed a bill Tuesday lifting requirements for public colleges in the state to consider SAT or ACT scores for first-time freshmen, encouraging what he called a more equitable and holistic approach to the admissions process and access to education.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
The Colorado Sun contributed to this report.