Congress: Bowman Introduces Legacy Admissions Reform Bill


Fordham University
Photo courtesy of Frank Lynch via Flickr

Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D. (NY-16) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Fair College Admissions for Students Act in Congress on Wednesday, Feb. 2, to reform the legacy and donor admissions practices at universities across the country and ensure equity in the admissions process.

The congressman, who represents parts of Westchester and The Bronx, and who, as reported, was recently arrested alongside at least 20 others, including faith leaders and youth who were “hunger striking for democracy,” amid a protest to protect voting rights in Washington D.C. in late January, said in the context of the new bill, “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.”

The congressman, a former teacher, said, “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 the legacy admissions practice which he said 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,” he said.


Photo Caption Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) on the steps of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2022, holding copies of 33 bills passed in 19 states throughout 2021 that restrict voting rights. The congressman was arrested the next day, along with others who participated in an ongoing protest to protect the right to vote. He was later released.
Photo courtesy of Congressman Jamaal Bowman via Twitter.

For his part, Merkley said, “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.” He added, “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.”

Merkley said selecting applicants to universities based on family names, connections, or the size of their bank accounts creates an uneven playing field for students without what he called those built-in advantages, and especially impacted 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,” the senator said.

Michael Dannenberg is vice president of higher education and strategic initiatives at Education Reform Now, a group which according to its website, “staunchly believes every child is entitled to a high-quality public education, and seeks to create progressive education at both the federal and state level that will guarantee a quality public education to all students.” The group are particularly concerned for those previously denied that right. The group advocates for policies that empower all students–particularly students of color, students from low-income backgrounds and other historically underserved students–to reach their limitless potential.”


FBI statement on bomb threats to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Centers of Worship.
Source: FBI

In a statement in response to the announcement of the new bill, Dannenberg wrote, “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.” He added, “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.”

Meanwhile, Viet Andy Nguyen, executive director of EdMobilizer, said of the new bill, “EdMobilizer is proud to support the Fair College Admissions for Students Act.” He added, “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.”

The mission of EdMobilizer is to increase post-secondary opportunities for first-generation, low-income, and/or undocumented students through building community at national conferences, creating a coalition of administrators, students, alumni, and policymakers to enact change, and tackling systemic barriers and by advocating for policy reforms at universities and workplaces.

According to Bowman’s office, legacy admissions can take up between 10 and 25 percent of available slots at top universities. His office said 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,” the congressman’s office wrote.

Specifically, the Fair College Admissions for Students Act, would achieve the following, if passed:

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 the legislation include U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez representing parts of The Bronx and Queens, Cori Bush, representing parts of Misouri, Jes?s G. “Chuy” Garc?a, representing parts of Illinois, Ayanna Pressley, representing parts of Massachusetts and Pramila Jayapal, representing parts of Washington state.

Aside from the system of legacy admissions for connected families, the so-called “college admissions scandal” has also been widely reported on, including by The New York Times which described it as a brazen cheating scheme. It involved [many White, rich] parents who were accused of crimes to get one child, or maybe two into elite colleges, through various bribes, and covered financial executives and members of the Hollywood circle such as actress Felicity Huffman, and actress Lori Loughlin. As of October 2021, the latter had plead not guilty and she was due to start her trial possibly in 2021.

Bowman’s office said The Fair College Admissions for Students Act has been endorsed by the following organizations: the 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.

The announcement came on the same day as the FBI released a statement, copied above, confirming that the agency was investigating bomb threats at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Houses of Worship. New York City has one such college which is based in Brooklyn, the CUNY -The Medgar Evers College. Norwood News reached out to the college on Wednesday, Feb. 2, to ask if it had received any such bomb threats. A member of the security team advised we would need to call back in the morning and speak to the lieutenant from the security team, which we did. We were subsequently referred to the public relations team and tried to call them directly for comment a couple of times. We did not receive an immediate response, and there was no option to leave a voicemail message.

Welcome to the Norwood News, a bi-weekly community newspaper that primarily serves the northwest Bronx communities of Norwood, Bedford Park, Fordham and University Heights. Through our Breaking Bronx blog, we focus on news and information for those neighborhoods, but aim to cover as much Bronx-related news as possible. Founded in 1988 by Mosholu Preservation Corporation, a not-for-profit affiliate of Montefiore Medical Center, the Norwood News began as a monthly and grew to a bi-weekly in 1994. In September 2003 the paper expanded to cover University Heights and now covers all the neighborhoods of Community District 7. The Norwood News exists to foster communication among citizens and organizations and to be a tool for neighborhood development efforts. The Norwood News runs the Bronx Youth Journalism Heard, a journalism training program for Bronx high school students. As you navigate this website, please let us know if you discover any glitches or if you have any suggestions. We’d love to hear from you. You can send e-mails to norwoodnews@norwoodnews.org or call us anytime (718) 324-4998.

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