Congressional Democrats on Wednesday said they would reintroduce a bill to ban legacy admissions at higher education institutions that receive federal funds—meaning virtually all U.S. colleges and universities.
Legacy admissions are the boosting of student rolls by giving preference to the children and grandchildren of a school’s alumni—or those who donated money to a school. A 2018 survey by Inside Higher Ed found that 42% of private universities, including some of America’s most elite schools, and 6% of public colleges undertake legacy admissions practices.
The move by Democrats follows this year’s Supreme Court decision barring the race-conscious admissions practice of affirmative action after hearing two cases regarding Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, both of which had been aiming to ensure that more non-white students were added to their student rolls.
Legacy admissions at schools like Harvard show that they overwhelmingly favor white, wealthy students over students of color or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Democrats’ proposed bill, the Fair College Admissions for Students Act, was initially introduced in 2022 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) along with Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) but never got beyond a Senate committee.
Merkley urged lawmakers to reconsider the legislation at a news conference Wednesday alongside Bowman and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
“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,” Merkley said.
The proposed legislation would reform the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cut off federal funding to institutions that continue to give advantages in admissions to legacy students.
The bill could potentially receive bipartisan support. Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who’s running for President in 2024, indicated soon after the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action that legacy admissions should be done away with.
Several top universities, like MIT, have already banned legacy admissions, but many others, including Harvard and Yale, still adhere to the practice.