Two progressive Democrats are looking to ban colleges and universities from admitting students based on their so-called “legacy” status within the institution, a common practice at thousands of universities.
The bill seeks to ban all higher education institutions that participate in federal student aid programs from allowing legacy admissions — a practice in which a college or university gives preference to a prospective student based on family ties to the school, such as their father or mother having attended.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) will be introducing the legislation — the Fair College Admissions for Students Act — on Wednesday, according to NBC News. The two have argued that legacy admissions give an unfair advantage to white students over black or Hispanic students.
It would also permit the secretary of education to waive the ban for historically black colleges and universities.
“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 in a statement obtained by the outlet.
The practice grew popular in the 1920s, leading some to question its roots.
In a statement to NBC News, Bowman suggested legacy admissions have “anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant roots” and that it “creates another systemic barrier to accessing higher education.”
“This is a practice rooted in hate and exclusion, while affirmative action is rooted in righting historical wrongs,” he said.
Dozens of colleges and universities including American University, Boston College, Columbia University, Harvard University, Michigan State, Pennsylvania State, the US Naval Academy, WPI and Yale University currently consider legacy admissions.
Several top universities, however, have begun to change that practice.
MIT, UC Berkeley, Oxford, CalTech, Cambridge and the University of Washington have all rejected legacy status as a point of consideration in applications.
In 2012, director of special projects for MIT admissions Chris Peterson wrote a blog post explaining the institution’s decision to not have legacy admissions, calling the practice “unfair.”
“To be clear: If you got into MIT, it’s because you got into MIT. Simple as that.”
States have also started to take matters into their own hands.
In May of last year, Colorado banned state-backed higher education institutions from considering legacy preferences.
“Providing preferential treatment to students with familial relationships to alumni of the institution is discriminatory in nature and hurts students who are undocumented, first-generation, immigrants, or underrepresented minorities and who do not have the same relationships to Colorado higher education institutions,” the legislation read.
Lawmakers have cited high legacy admission rates of white students over others of color as reason for changing the practice.
“Fun Fact: more white legacy students get admitted to top universities than Black & Latinx students admitted through affirmative action. @SenJeffMerkley and I are introducing a bill to ban legacy & donor preferences making admissions more fair. Affirmative action isn’t the issue,” Bowman tweeted last month.
According to a 2019 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, roughly 70 percent of legacy admissions at Harvard are white students.