Merkley, Bowman: No More Legacy Admissions at Colleges and Universities

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley introduced legislation with U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman Ed.D. (D-NY-16) to stop universities across the country from giving preferential treatment to children of alumni and donors and help ensure equity in the admissions process.

The bicameral Fair College Admissions for Students Act comes following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning race-conscious college admissions decisions. Legacy admissions overwhelmingly benefit well-connected students—who are predominantly white and wealthy—at a time when access to higher education for students of color is under attack.

“Though the Supreme Court gutted race-conscious college admissions, make no mistake, affirmative action is still alive and well for children of alumni and major donors, and taxpayers shouldn’t be funding it. As the first in my family to go to college, I know the struggles facing students whose parents have never been through the process before or don’t have the money for expensive test prep or advisors to help them craft the perfect essay,” said Senator Merkley. “Children of donors and alumni may be excellent students and well-qualified, but they are the last people who should get an additional leg up in the complicated and competitive college admissions process.”

“All students deserve an equitable chance to be admitted to institutions of higher education, but many are overlooked in the admissions process due to the historically elitist and racist legacy and donor admissions practices at colleges across the country,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D. (NY-16). “Legacy admissions disproportionately benefit wealthy, white, and connected students and have racist, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant roots. They create another systemic barrier to accessing higher education for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation college students. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s shameful decision to end race-conscious admissions policies, we’re about to see colleges across the country get even richer and whiter than they already are. It’s now more urgent than ever that we take action to create and support diverse learning environments, including by passing our bill to ban legacy admissions and continuing the fight to bring back affirmative action. Our democracy depends on equity in education from preschool to college to vocational school and beyond, so that every young person in our country has access to the tools they need to unlock their brilliance and reach their full potential. I’m proud that our legislation will help to ensure that every student, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has a fair shot.”

According to The Century Foundation, legacy admissions can take up between 10 and 25 percent of available slots at top universities. Some estimates indicate that applying as a legacy student can double to quadruple one’s chances of getting into a highly selective university. In using legacy and donor status in admissions decisions, institutions give preference to students whose families attended or donated to the university, reducing the opportunities for the descendants of enslaved African Americans who built and maintained many of these institutions, and other underrepresented students.

The Fair College Admissions for Students Act would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit institutions of higher education from participating in federal student aid programs if they give admissions preference to students with legacy or donor status.

In the Senate, the Fair College Admissions for Students Act is also sponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Alex Padilla (D-CA).

In the House, the Fair College Admissions for Students Act is also sponsored by Representatives Cori Bush (D-MO-01), Troy Carter (D-LA-02), Greg Casar (D-TX-35), Judy Chu (D-CA-28), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO-05), Madeleine Dean (D-PA-04), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03), Dwight Evans (D-PA-03), Maxwell Frost (D-FL-10), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL-04), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Jonathan Jackson (D-IL-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Sara Jacobs (D-CA-51), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07), Hank Johnson (D-GA-04), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Andy Kim (D-NJ-03), Barbara Lee (D-CA-12), Summer Lee (D-PA-12), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Grace Meng (D-NY-6), Kweisi Mfume (D-MD-07), Jerry Nadler (D-NY-12), Donald Norcross (D-NJ-01), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA-38), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Adam Schiff (D-CA-03), Mark Takano (D-CA-39), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-12), Jill Tokuda (D-HI-02), Ritchie Torres (D-NY-05), and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY-07).

The Fair College Admissions for Students Act is endorsed by Education Reform Now, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the Education Trust, EdMobilizer, the National Education Association (NEA), the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), All4Ed, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS), the Hildreth Institute, New America Higher Education Program, and Richard D. Kahlenberg (Editor, “Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions”, The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), and The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“Education Reform Now is proud to have worked with Sen. Merkley and Rep. Bowman on national legislation directed at ending the use of legacy preferences in college admissions. Providing a birthright advantage to applicants lucky enough to be born into wealth and privilege is not just profoundly unfair; it runs contrary to higher education’s mission to serve as an engine for social mobility, by providing an advantage to those who least need one over first-generation students, students of color, and students from low-income households. Following the Supreme Court’s brazen attack on forty years of precedent and on our shared American values, which hold that our institutions of higher education and our nation are stronger, smarter, and better when they are more diverse, we would expect every college and university in America to drop legacy preferences this summer. If they won’t act on their own to make college admissions fairer, then Congress must.” – James Murphy, Deputy Director of Higher Education Policy at Education Reform Now

“At a time when diversity in higher education is under attack, the NAACP is proud to support a bill that does the justice work of protecting efforts to foster diversity in higher education. Legacy Admission policies overwhelmingly, and disproportionately impact Black and Brown, college-aspiring students. We applaud Rep. Bowman for his efforts to drive real policy that keeps federal dollars out of the hands of institutions that are deeply committed to running afoul of efforts to ensure access and diversity in higher education.” – Phelton Moss, Education Innovation Fellow, NAACP

“The Education Trust is committed to creating opportunities in higher education for all students, but especially students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. As such, we need to end legacy and donor preferences in admissions, which unfairly give wealthier families an advantage in the admissions process. Legacy admissions have a long history of favoring White and wealthy applicants. This practice is historically built on systemic racism, whereby the nation’s most prominent institutions worked to diminish Jewish and immigrant enrollment, and over time included more racial minorities and others deemed unworthy of access to higher education. The Fair College Admissions for Students Act addresses these inequities by reversing historical wrongs and we are proud to support it.”— Wil Del Pilar, Senior Vice President, The Education Trust

“EdMobilizer is proud to support the Fair College Admissions for Students Act. Legacy preferences are an archaic practice that gives unfair and unearned advantages to already privileged applicants. As an organization that supports first-generation, low-income students and proudly pro-affirmative action, we call on institutions to end legacy preferences now.” – Viet Andy Nguyen, Executive Director of EdMobilizer

“NCAN works to ensure that everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – should have the opportunity to complete affordable, high-quality education after high school. This legislation takes an important step towards leveling the playing field in college admissions.” – Kim Cook, CEO of NCAN

“Everyone deserves an equitable opportunity to pursue postsecondary education, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, our higher education system still allows institutions to prioritize admitting white and wealthy applicants over underrepresented and under-resourced students. By banning the preferential treatment of children of alumni and donors, the Fair College Admissions for Students Act will remove discriminatory and racist barriers in our nation’s higher education system. This will provide Black, Latinx, Indigenous, immigrant, and first-generation students, along with individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, with greater access to higher education so they can advance in their career pathways.” – India Heckstall, senior policy analyst, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

“The promise of the American Dream can only be made possible if we open doors for our nation’s young people – especially to high-quality higher education. For far too long, college admissions practices have favored affluent, well-connected students leaving out many from low-income families and Black, Latinx and Indigenous young people. We applaud Senator Merkley and Representative Bowman for their leadership with the Fair College Admissions for Students Act which will help end these practices. Our nation can only benefit from creating more opportunities for our future thinkers, innovators, and leaders.” – Deborah Delisle, President and CEO of All4Ed

“Legacy preferences are unfair in any context.  But now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the ability of universities to use race in admission, the case against giving already privileged students an admissions preference has become even more compelling.  Kudos to Senator Jeff Merkley and Rep. Jamaal Bowman for seizing the moment to do what is right.” – Richard D. Kahlenberg, Editor, Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions

“Higher Education is about opening doors to opportunity for students of all backgrounds. The Supreme Court ruling banning the use of race-conscious admissions ignores the inequities that have prevented far too many students from accessing their college dreams. Those who have actively fought against affirmative action have largely ignored the real preferences that favor wealthy and mostly white Americans, including legacy admissions and donor preferences. The Campaign is proud to support Senator Merkley and Representative Bowman’s Fair College Admissions for Students Act, which would dismantle practices that explicitly favor the wealthy and well-connected; confronting racism and systemic inequity head-on.” – The Campaign for College Opportunity