Private Colleges Wary as California Legislator Calls for Crackdown on Legacy Admits

The nationwide scandal involving bribery in college admissions has also illuminated all the legal ways wealthy families can game the system. Now the debate over how to respond has hit the California Legislature, and struck a nerve not just with the state's public higher education system but also with private colleges.

A bill by Assemblyman Phil Ting would bar colleges and universities from receiving state financial aid dollars if they give preference to applicants with ties to alumni or donors. Proposed just this past week, it’s already raising alarm among the state’s private colleges, some of which use so-called “legacy admissions” to cultivate stronger ties with their alumni communities, and the donations that come with them.

Critics of legacy preferences say they amount to affirmative action for the privileged, giving an edge to children of college-educated parents who are already more equipped to navigate the admissions process.

“This door of legacy admits is completely legal and has been used for centuries to get a certain type of person into the school,” Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said last week in announcing the proposal. One of six measures introduced by a group of Democratic lawmakers racing to respond to the scandal, it’s likely to be the most controversial.

While California’s public universities officially ban admissions preferences for alumni and donors, Ting’s bill threatens to curtail private colleges’ access to the Cal Grant scholarships they receive from the state and distribute to needy students.

“There are serious consequences and potentially a major fallout among especially some of the smaller, more vulnerable institutions in our sector,” said Aram Nadjarian, a spokesperson for the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. The association also released a statement saying that legacy applicants “have a unique connection to the institution” and that colleges should retain the right to consider that as part of their application.

The state doled out $237 million in Cal Grant aid to private, non-profit colleges and universities in the 2017-18 academic year. Just over $21 million of that aid—more than for any other college on the list—went to the University of Southern California, a school at the center of the cheating scandal.

The university declined to comment Friday on its policies related to legacy admits but said in a statement that it was “currently reviewing all admissions procedures” and analyzing Ting’s bill. Legacy students made up about 19 percent of USC’s 2017-18 entering class, according to a post on the university’s admissions blog; the university refers to them as “Scions.”

“It’s important to us that our population of Scions is represented among the entering class,” the blog post reads, while noting that “there will always be legacy students … with very strong applications who don’t receive an offer of admission.”

Stanford University, which accepted only 4 percent of applicants last year, includes legacy status in a range of factors that make up its holistic review process, spokesperson E.J. Miranda said in an email. “We are studying the proposed legislation and look forward to engaging with the legislature on this topic,” Miranda said.

Some private colleges and universities in the state, including Caltech, eschew legacy preferences. At Holy Names University in Oakland, more than 70 percent of the 1,000-member student body receive Cal Grants, said spokesperson Sonia Caltvedt. But the legislation wouldn’t affect Holy Names, Caltvedt said, because their admissions process does not favor donors’ children, alumni children or athletes.

“Our mission from the start has been all about access,” she said.

If the bill were to pass, it would likely pose the most problems for highly-selective colleges that want to foster alumni relationships but also rely on Cal Grant dollars to provide better financial aid packages to low-income students than they could fund on their own, said Jerome Lucido, director of the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice at USC.

“They would have to decide, are we going to lose our aid, or are we going to lose this eager, full-paying constituency?” said Lucido, who formerly oversaw admissions for USC and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Banning legacy admits on its own isn’t sufficient to ensure equity, Lucido said, because other admissions categories also favor families with more resources. He cited the early decision process, which requires applicants to be well-informed about their options and, in some cases, able to make a decision without comparing financial aid offers. Some colleges also measure students’ “demonstrated interest” in the school, which they can show by visiting in person, a trip that can cost too much for low-income families.

The extra boost that an applicant gets from being a child of an alumnus, Lucido added, may actually matter less than the simple advantage of coming from a home where college is seen as a priority.

“That said, should [colleges] be practicing affirmative action for the wealthy?” he said. “I think, on the face of it, you have to say no.”

This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.


  1. LOL,
    Can you imagine if Cadillac and Mercedes decided not to sell there cars to rich repeat buyers that wanted there kids to drive one of those cars.
    The “Alums” would go buy a Lexis or a Ferrari and American collage’s might go broke!

    LOL some more!

  2. As a tax payer I support this bill. The legacy applicant is no other than affirmative action for the rich and well connected that buy their place to college. Students independently of social economic have to be accepted based on merits and hard work. The affluent always have a way to game/cheat the system legally because of laws that allow them to. This gaming is more common in the college admissions and taxes. They always have a way to avoid paying their taxes while the rest of us see a big chuck of our earnings going to the state and federal taxes. Every person should pay the same percentage of taxes based on income. This has to apply to coirporations as well. Corporation are not individuals; they are business making lots of profit.

  3. > Private Colleges Wary as California Legislator Calls for Crackdown on Legacy Admits

    Dear California Legislators:


    The ONLY justification for government meddling in education is to foster UNIVERSAL education.

    When the government starts thinking it can decide curricula, or content, or admissions policies, it is WAY, WAY, out of bounds.

    In a representative democracy, the people tell the government how the people want to conduct their own education.

    If the government wants to pay for infrastructure or utilities on a non-discriminatory, non-interfering basis, that’s OK. But anything else — especially anything that favors the government’s voting partisans — is subversive of our republican form of government.

    • Dear California legislators, GO TO HEAVEN, if those private institutions want to continue making money at the expense of talented non-priveledged students, let them be but give them non-financial support. Balancing the rich AND famous power of corruption is not control is called JUSTICE!

    • Read the article. The State of California would not be making legacy admissions illegal. It would make institutions that offer legacy admissions ineligible for Cal Grant aid.

      • > It would make institutions that offer legacy admissions ineligible for Cal Grant aid.

        That’s not fostering universal education.

        That’s attaching strings to the taxpayer money intended for universal education to exclude benefits for some of the taxpayers who paid that money.

        Private institutions are allowed to discriminate. Discrimination is what freedom empowers free people to do.

        Democrats want to discriminate against people who the Democrats decide have too much money or too much freedom.

        Get the state legislature out of the education discrimination business.

        • Ting proposal isn’t meant to help people served by Cal Grants. It’s meant to help middle class Asians and whites.

          You should be for it.

  4. Look, legacy kids do not rely on Cal Grants. The poorer kids do. Therefore, no Cal Grants means no poor kids. All students in private colleges will be wealthy.

    • > All students in private colleges will be wealthy.

      You’re quite wrong about this. I’m sure you don’t know you’re wrong, but nonetheless, you’re still wrong.

      Some private colleges actually recruit poor kids, and many, many poor kids go to private colleges.

      FIrst of all, private colleges are usually cheaper than the lavish and over-promoted political seminaries of the political elite. SJW clubs like Stanford, Berkeley, poison ivy league schools, etc.

      Secondly, the elite PRIVATE schools have a business model which very few people understand. They OVERCHARGE the monied elites for the difficult task of educating their often dullard progeny. Then they take the surplus of funds provided by the elites and offer generous scholarships to overbright super achievers.

      For the monied elites, money is no object. $100,000 per year tuition is rounding error from their stock options.

      If the COST per student is — say $33,000 — the college can educate THREE students: one mediocrity, and two future Nobel Prize or Academy Award Winners.

      When the SAT scores for the entering students are published, the AVERAGE SAT score is very high. When the placement of graduates in prestigious post graduate programs is tabulated — many graduates end up in Harvard or Yale Law school. Mr. Monied Elite’s dullard child ISN’T one of the graduates going to Harvard or Yale, but who noticies. He still has a diploma from a prestigious private school.

      AND many of the super achievers who made the academic miracle possible, were likely poor as church mice. Talent is where you find it.

      I believe it is the case that even Ivy League colleges use this business model. I recall that schools like Harvard and Yale have done away with charging tuition for undergraduate students. The endowments for these schools are so huge, that the cost of running the undergraduate program is relatively peanuts.

    • “Look, legacy kids do not rely on Cal Grants. The poorer kids do. Therefore, no Cal Grants means no poor kids. All students in private colleges will be wealthy.”

      Exactly. Someone who sees what all this nonsense talk is all about.

      These private universities are hedge funds with with pretty buildings and nice grounds attached,

      Stanford 11.3% on $26.5B.
      Yale 10%+ on 29.4B.
      Harvard 10%+ on 39.2B.

      They haven’t had to charge tuition in decades and they definitely don’t need or want Cal Grants. What they want, and will have more o,f is access to power to protect thier endowments and thier status as arbiters of society. Best to keep that by making it look more fair by not taking government money, which allows them can keep the “aspirational” out and divy up the spots between more legacies and “diversity scholarships”.

      That is CA now and the future of the US, Legacies (Oligarch progeny) with diversity window dressing.

  5. Fexxnist,
    If we do it your way only smart, deserving Asian student will be allowed to matriculate in our tax funded, state indoctrination factory’s, then some would call you a racist!

    • No public funding for schools that admit students not based on hard work and merits. The focus has to be on corrupted means to get into college. This involves investigation of admission tests and other factors. Some significant number of people buy their way into college with donations and other forms of legal bribery. This has to stop.

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