WASHINGTON –Today, U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the Merit-Based Educational Reforms and Institutional Transparency Act (MERIT Act), legislation to end the practice of colleges and universities giving “preferential treatment” in the admissions process based on an applicant’s relationship to alumni or donors of the deciding institution.
The MERIT Act would amend the Higher Education Act to add a new standard for accreditation in order to prevent accredited colleges and universities – institutions that are recognized for maintaining a certain level of educational quality – from giving “preferential treatment” during the admissions process.
“America is a land of opportunity, not a land of aristocracy,” said Senator Young. “Legacy admissions restrict opportunities for many bright and talented young Americans and provide unmerited advantage to the most connected individuals in our society. Our bill will end legacy preferences in the admissions process and promote upward mobility for Americans of all backgrounds.”
“A student’s acceptance into a college should not hinge on whether their parents attended that school or donated a large sum of money,” said Senator Kaine. “This legislation would help bring more fairness to the higher education admissions process, and ensure that first-generation and low-income students are not put at a disadvantage because of their parents’ educational histories or incomes. I will continue to do all that I can through my work on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to expand access to high-quality, affordable education.”
Text of the legislation can be found here.
- Under the MERIT Act, “preferential treatment” is defined as making admissions decisions or providing benefits based on an applicant’s relationship with alumni or donors as the “determinative factor.”
- The bill clarifies that the new standard shouldn’t be construed to prevent institutions from considering an applicant’s genuine interest in the institution as part of the admissions process.
- The bill ensures that religious institutions can make admissions decisions in line with their faith-based values, ensuring no infringement on religious freedom.
- The bill requires a comprehensive feasibility study to assess improving data collection regarding the influence of legacy and donor relationships on admissions decisions.
- Since 2015, over 100 colleges and universities have ended legacy preferences, but 787 still used the practice in 2020, according to a report from the nonprofit Education Reform Now.