February 02, 2022

NEWS: Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Sen. Jeff Merkley Introduce Legacy Admissions Reform Bill

For Immediate Release

February 2, 2022

Contact: Bowman.Press@mail.house.gov 

NEWS: Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Sen. Jeff Merkley Introduce Legacy Admissions Reform Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D. (NY-16) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Fair College Admissions for Students Act to reform the legacy and donor admissions practices at universities across the country and ensure equity in the admissions process.

“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,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D. (NY-16). “To build a future in which the unlimited potential of our communities are untapped, historical policy harm is addressed, and opportunities for economic, educational, and social advancement are within reach, we have to ensure our policies reflect equity and inclusion — including at our institutions of higher education. The legacy admissions practice which disproportionately benefits rich, white, and connected students, and has antisemitic and anti-immigrant roots, creates another systemic barrier to accessing higher education for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students. Senator Merkley and I say exclusionary policies must end and Congress must prohibit these unfair and inequitable practices. Our legislation helps students of all backgrounds receive equitable and fair consideration during the admissions process and helps us manifest a future in which every student regardless of who they are or where they come from has a fair shot.”

“Getting into college can be really tough for people without lots of money, whose parents have never been through the process before, who can’t pay for test prep or advisers to help them craft the perfect essay,” said Senator Merkley (D-OR), who was himself the first in his family to attend college. “Children of donors and alumni may be excellent students and well-qualified, but the last people who need extra help in the complicated and competitive college admissions process are those who start with the advantages of family education and money. 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. The Fair College Admissions for Students Act, which Representative Bowman and I are introducing today, will remove this discriminatory barrier and ensure that money and connections will no longer give an unfair leg up for access to higher education.”

“Education Reform Now is proud to have worked with Sen. Merkley and Rep. Bowman in introducing national legislation directed at ending the legacy preference in college admissions,” said Michael Dannenberg, Vice President of Higher Education and Strategic Initiatives, Education Reform Now. “The legacy preference undermines diversity, fails to reward true achievement, and is profoundly un-American. The way to make admissions fairer and more accessible isn’t to perpetuate privilege among a few, but to stop inequitable admissions policies entirely. If institutions of higher education won’t act on their own, then Congress, states, municipalities, and corporate and philanthropic donors should impose financial repercussions on wealthy colleges that willfully choose to perpetuate inequity.”

"EdMobilizer is proud to support the Fair College Admissions for Students Act,” said Viet Andy Nguyen, Executive Director of EdMobilizer. “Legacy preferences is an archaic practice that gives unfair and unearned advantages to already privileged applicants. It is time for institutions to end legacy preferences now."

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 while excluding the descendants of enslaved African Americans who built and maintained many of these institutions. 

Specifically, the Fair College Admissions for Students Act, introduced by Rep. Bowman and Sen. Merkley, would:

  • Amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit institutions of higher education participating in Federal student aid programs from giving admissions preference to students with legacy or donor status.

  • Grant the U.S. Secretary of Education the ability to waive the legacy preference prohibition for an award year for Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal College or Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). To receive this waiver, the institution must demonstrate that its use of legacy preference is in the best interest of historically underrepresented students.

Click here for a one-page summary of the Fair College Admissions for Students Act.

Click here for a section-by-section of the Fair College Admissions for Students Act.

Original cosponsors of this legislation include Senator Bob Casey and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jesús G. "Chuy" García, Ayanna Pressley, and Pramila Jayapal.

The Fair College Admissions for Students Act has been endorsed by the following organizations: Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Education Reform Now, EdMobilizer, UnidosUS, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Association for Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS), United We Dream, Color of Change, The Education Trust, New America, National Action Network, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), 1000 Women Strong, Journey for Justice, Alliance for Quality Education, and ACLU.