New Virginia Higher Ed Laws: A Significant Shift in College Admissions

Employment Law

New Virginia Higher Ed Laws: A Significant Shift in College Admissions

Jul 8, 2024 | Employment Law

On July 1, 2024, Virginia ushered in a new era in higher education in the Commonwealth with the implementation of groundbreaking legislation that bans legacy preferences in college admissions. The move positions Virginia as a leader in the quest for a more equitable and inclusive admissions process.

Understanding the New Legislation

The new law, which was unanimously approved by both chambers of the Virginia legislature earlier this year, prohibits public colleges and universities in the Commonwealth from considering legacy status—whether an applicant’s parents or other relatives attended or donated to the institution in the past—when making admissions decisions. The change is aimed at leveling the playing field for all applicants, ensuring that admission decisions are based solely on merit considerations and not on familial connections. The ban will significantly affect the University of Virginia and William & Mary, two of the more selective public universities in the U.S., according to the State Council on Higher Education for Virgina. Virginia Tech, another prestigious public school, announced the end of legacy admissions last year.

The Impact on Higher Education

The legacy preference has long been a contentious issue. Critics argue that it can perpetuate inequality, giving an unfair advantage to applicants who come from affluent backgrounds, sometimes at the expense of deserving candidates from diverse and underrepresented communities. By eliminating the use of legacy admissions, Virginia hopes to create a more diverse and inclusive student body that better reflects the state’s demographics. Virginia’s Senator Tim Kaine, noted that elimination of legacy preferences “will promote upward mobility and fairness in the admissions process.”

What This Means for Higher Education Applicants

Prospective post-secondary students and their families should be aware of this significant change as they navigate the college admissions process. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Merit-Based Admissions: Admissions decisions will now be based entirely on academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, personal statements, and other merit-based criteria.
  • Increased Competition: With the elimination of legacy preferences, the competition for spots at Virginia’s top public universities may intensify. Students will need to present a strong, well-rounded application to gain admission at Virginia’s top schools.
  • Opportunities for All: This change opens doors for students from all socio-economic backgrounds, particularly those who may not have had familial legacy or donor connections to a university but have demonstrated exceptional academic potential and achievements.

Broader Implications

Virginia joins a handful of other states that have made the decision to ban legacy preferences and may inspire other states to re-evaluate their college and university admissions policies. This move could set a precedent for a nationwide shift towards more equitable admissions practices.

Legal Considerations

From a legal perspective, Virginia’s new law underscores the importance of fairness and equity in admissions to public institutions of higher education. It aligns with broader efforts to promote diversity and inclusion across various sectors. Here are several key legal considerations and potential impacts:

  • Constitutional Compliance: The law reflects principles enshrined in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates that no state shall deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. By eliminating legacy preferences, Virginia is moving towards a more constitutionally sound admissions process that upholds this fundamental principle.
  • Legal Precedents and Challenges: Historically, legacy admissions have faced criticism and some legal scrutiny for perpetuating racial and economic inequalities. Virginia’s new law could serve as a significant legal precedent, potentially influencing courts and lawmakers in other states. However, it may also face challenges from institutions and individuals who believe the ban on legacy admissions in public higher education infringes on their rights or interests.
  • Institutional Policies and Compliance: Public colleges and universities in Virginia must revise their admissions policies to comply with the new law. This will include updating application procedures, training admissions staff, and ensuring that no legacy-related information influences admissions decision-making. Institutions must also maintain transparency and accountability to avoid potential legal disputes.
  • Impact on Private Institutions: While the new Virginia law directly affects public universities, it could indirectly pressure private institutions in Virginia and beyond to adopt similar policies to promote equity and remain competitive in attracting a diverse applicant pool.
  • Monitoring and Enforcement: The implementation of this law will require  vigilant monitoring and enforcement to ensure compliance. The Virginia Department of Education and other relevant administrative bodies will need to establish clear guidelines and oversight mechanisms to address any violations or concerns that arise.
  • Legal Advice and Support: Educational institutions may seek legal counsel to navigate these changes effectively. Understanding the nuances of the new law and its implications for the higher education admissions process in Virginia is crucial for ensuring compliance and avoiding potential litigation.

The enactment by Virginia of this new law represents a significant step forward in the ongoing effort to make higher education more accessible and admissions to higher education more equitable. As Virginia’s public colleges and universities adjust to this new landscape, many anticipate a more diverse and dynamic student population that enriches the educational experience for everyone.

For further insights and legal advice on how this new legislation may affect you or your institution, or if you have questions about your current policies and practices to ensure compliance, please contact Doug Taylor, at or (703) 525-4000.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.


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