Bill Would Bar Institutions From Federal Student Aid Over Legacy Admissions

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Bicameral legislation recently introduced by a group of progressive Democrats is looking to curtail the use of legacy admissions by banning institutions from participating in federal aid programs if they admit students based on legacy admissions.

The bill, spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) as introduced, would prohibit an institution from accessing federal student aid programs if their admissions practice gives preference to students with legacy or donor status.

The measure, upon introduction, has not garnered much interest outside the progressive wing and with the legislative window winding down on this Congress, it is unlikely that this bill will see much, if any, movement this session.

However, as the issue of affirmative action becomes more salient with conservative advocates targeting the practice in court, the legislation serves as a contrast and an indication on the progressive stance on admissions processes.

The legislative text, as currently drafted, would also enable the education secretary to utilize a waiver that could lift this prohibition for historically Black college and universities (HBCUs), tribal college and universities (TCUs), and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) if those institutions are able to demonstrate  that its use of legacy preference is in the best interest of historically underrepresented students.

Merkley, a first-generation college student, said that students of alumni and donors alike do not need the extra advantages of the application process and that the continuation of legacy admissions creates an unlevel playing field for prospective students.

Admission practices have garnered heightened interest in the judicial process with the Supreme Court slated to consider a case on the practice of affirmative action in higher education.

According to the lawmakers, this bill is the first time that legislation has been filed in Congress to challenge the practice of giving admissions preferences to children of alumni and donors.

“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,” Bowman said. “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.”


Publication Date: 2/9/2022

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