House

Democrats unveil bill to ban legacy admissions at universities

Two progressive lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday that would ban the practice of universities admitting students based on family ties.

The introduction of the bill from Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) comes just over a week after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the consideration of racial diversity in college admissions decisions.

Bowman and Merkley argued that basing university admissions decisions on family connections served to exacerbate racial and economic inequalities.

“All students deserve an equitable opportunity to gain admission to institutions of higher education, but students whose parents didn’t attend or donate to a university are often overlooked in the admissions process due to the historically classist and racist legacy and donor admissions practices at many schools across the country,” Bowman, a former middle school principal, said in a statement.

“Selecting applicants to universities based off of family names, connections, or the size of their bank accounts creates an unlevel playing field for students without those built-in advantages, especially impacting minority and first generation students,” Merkley said.

The legislation would specifically ban universities participating in federal student aid programs from giving any admissions advantage to students whose families were previously alumni or have donated money to the school.

However, it would allow the secretary of Education to waive the prohibition on legacy-based admission for an award year to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and schools that serve tribal communities or other minorities. Those schools would have to prove that the use of legacy student admissions is in the interest of historically underrepresented populations.

Legacy admissions amount to about 10 to 15 percent of the student population at some top Ivy League schools, such as Dartmouth, Brown and Yale, according to the Boston Globe.

Some top schools, such as Johns Hopkins University, have stopped allowing legacy admissions.

Ronald Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an editorial for The Atlantic in 2020 that 1 in 8 newly admitted students had benefited from alumni connections when he assumed his role a decade prior. The university ultimately moved to end the practice in 2014.

“These efforts are not a panacea for the structural inequities that plague our society. But they are necessary if American universities are truly to fulfill their democratic promise to be ladders of mobility for all,” Daniels wrote.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is set to hear an affirmative action case later this year after a conservative-backed group, Students for Fair Admissions, sued Harvard and the University of North Carolina and alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants. 

Tags Education Harvard HCBUs Jeff Merkley John Hopkins Supreme Court
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