Tech to End Racial and Legacy Preferences in Admissions

I have cross-posted this article about Virginia Tech’s admissions policy from Bacon’s Rebellion. Tech is a peer institution, and its restatement of admissions policy sets an expectation that the University of Virginia should as well. The views expressed here are my own, not those of the Jefferson Council. — JAB

by James A. Bacon

In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Virginia Tech has announced that it will eliminate race and legacy status as factors in admissions. Information about an individual’s race/ethnicity will no longer be visible during the application process.

“Much of our recent success in attracting and graduating students from underrepresented minority and underserved backgrounds (including low-income, first generation and veteran students) has been achieved by lowering barriers to admissions, creating effective pre-college programs, and supporting our students while on campus,” said President Tim Sands. “We will increase our emphasis on those programs and support mechanisms going forward.”

These changes strike me as a reasonable compromise in response to the Supreme Court ruling. Dropping race and ethnicity as factors in admissions ends the invidious practice of explicit discrimination on the basis of race. It represents a huge defeat for “anti-racists” who believe that the only antidote to past discrimination against minorities is reverse discrimination in their favor.

Tech has coupled that decision with a formal end to favoring legacies. Given the fact that legacies are disproportionately White, the symbolic value is huge.

“We’ve placed less and less emphasis on legacy in recent years, to the point that it’s not factoring into admissions decisions in any significant way, and yet our legacy numbers have remained really strong,” said Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management in the Virginia Tech statement on its new admissions policies. “While around 12 percent of our applications are legacy, they comprise over 20 percent of the incoming class. This demonstrates that legacy students are applying with all the academic and extracurricular preparation that they need to compete for admission.”

Tech’s strategy is to encourage applications by students from under-represented groups by reducing barriers to admission. One of those obstacles has been the practice of granting early admissions for up to 20% of the seats in an entering class. Early acceptances posed a quandary for students from less affluent families who had to decide whether to lock in their acceptance before knowing how much financial aid they would receive.

“By eliminating early decision, we are simplifying our application process and also leveling the playing field for all students, regardless of their household income,” Espinoza said.

Tech also eliminated a requirement to submit SAT and ACT exam scores, presumably on the grounds that students from poor families are less likely to be able to afford the fees associated with taking the exams or prep courses for the exams.

The shift in admissions policies does not mean Tech has abandoned its commitment to “diversity.” Tech’s statement noted that in 2022 the university achieved a key milestone in its strategic plan, with 40.4% percent of the incoming class composed of “underrepresented minority students and underserved students.”

In a 2022 press release, Tech stated that 8.7% of the 2022 entering class identified as Black, doubling the number compared to the 2017 entering class. Hispanic/LatinX students comprise 10.9% of the 2022 entering class, an increase of 79% compared to 2017. Tech did not provide a breakdown of Asian students, who are over-represented compared to their percentage of Virginia’s population.

Some reservations. Tech’s new admissions policies represent a compromise between the dominant ethic within the university, which is “anti-racist” in the woke sense of the word, and the dominant ethic outside the university, in which a significant majority of Americans reject the idea of racial preferences in university admissions. That compromise leaves some issues unaddressed.

Nowhere in Tech’s announcement does the word “merit” appear. Virginia Tech is one of Virginia’s most prestigious higher-ed institutions, and its College of Engineering enjoys national renown. One would think that Tech would take the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to academic aptitude and achievement as a basis for admission. To the contrary, Tech made voluntary the submission of SAT and ACT scores, which are highly reliable (though not perfect) predictors of academic success at the college level.

Likewise, while Tech stresses its commitment to “diversity,” it is clear that the university is concerned overwhelmingly with racial/ethnic diversity. In the leftist catechism, the only identities that matter are race/ethnicity, gender and sexual preference. The Tech administration expresses no concern for other dimensions of diversity, such as diversity of viewpoint. Like other leading higher-ed institutions, Tech’s intellectual monoculture suppresses diversity of thought. Eliminating racial preferences in admissions won’t change that.

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Wahoo'74
Wahoo'74
6 months ago

A step in the right direction, but you are correct that the oft ignored word “merit” has to be inserted as the primary criterion for admission. Once students graduate, the real world promotes workers based on that. There are no “safe spaces” in corporate America, nor should there be.

Geoffrey Close
Geoffrey Close
6 months ago

I’m confused regarding the legacy issue and tying it to race as a status for admission. Non-whites have graduated from the University for more than a generation now. Does that mean that the children of non-white graduates not be given the same status as the children of other graduates? Have the non-white graduates not become successful and are they not supporting the university to the extent white alumni are? The University depends on the financial support of alumni. How will the development office respond to the children of major alumni donors being excluded from attending? I’ll give you an example from another institution of higher learning. A non-minority male acquaintance of my son was not accepted to a very competitive New England College. He was a double legacy as both of his parents were graduates, as was his grandfather, a former Secretary of the Treasury who had been a major donor, with a building named in his honor. Once the son/grandson was not accepted there, all future donations to that college were curtailed by the family. It was not that the applicant wasn’t qualified, as he matriculated to and graduated from a very prestigious Ivy League school instead to which the family is now generously supporting. Legacies do have a role in admissions process, as a source for continuing alumni support. Successful alumni seek a continuity of opportunity for members of their family. Therefore, legacy status should be an integral part of the admissions process.

walter smith
walter smith
6 months ago

Tech can do what it wants.
This is obviously a sop to the enraged professors that they will have to cheat even more subtly, but one very big factor is being ignored.
Racial discrimination was and is unConstitutional.
Legacy discrimination is not. And I’m not arguing for it. I’m saying you don’t GIVE the Marxists a win. In fact, don’t abolish it just to make them mad! There are monetary and cultural reasons to do it. They also probably subsidize somewhat the Marxist funding scheme of fleece the rich parents. I also read an article where “underrepresented” legacy parents very much favored the legacy status! (I guess the legacy parents must not have gotten the memo about the systemic racism when they went there…)
Finally, based on DATA, not emotions, show me there is actually a legacy preference. I think UVA says there is, but I am not sure the DATA supports it. Maybe, we could get UVA to open up its admissions data? I’m ready to follow truth wherever it leads. But UVA is not. One, because they know they have been violating the law and they fully intend to continue violating the law, using race in admissions. They just have to be sneakier, and that is exactly why UVA is one of the pilot participants with College Board in developing Landscape to cheat less apparently. Two, based on the one year of data the unequivocal free inquiry school (liars) has provided, legacy “preference,” based on SAT scores, was not evident. Legacies had the highest offer rates among all racial groups, but within each racial group, the legacy offers were squarely in the SAT range. Let’s look at the data. Who’s with me? Who wants UVA to live up to its “unequivocal” support for free expression and free inquiry? Don’t you think UVA should?

Wahoo'74
Wahoo'74
6 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

100% Walter. Let the data speak, not feelings or emotion.

Both our younger two daughters are out-of-state alumnae. The first was wait listed but got in, and was well within the Class of 2014 acceptance criteria. She graduated with a 3.5 GPA in the College “Politics, Philosophy and Law” honors program, then made Law Review at W&L. Our youngest daughter had 2 B’s the rest A’s in high school, was President of her school’s Honor Committee, played soccer and lacrosse. She graduated from with a 3.45 GPA with a degree in Media Communications.

Hardly “preferential” admissions. I am not a large donor. This ruling seems to imply legacy kids are sub par and/or get in due to parents’ large dollar donations. The data do not show that.

John Palmer
John Palmer
6 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

I agree completely. Tossing in a change to the treatment of legacy admissions is a foolish sop that will do nothing the make the critics reasonable.