Several weeks ago, I wrote a column in which I advocated the abolition of legacy admissions to colleges and universities. (In this context, “legacy” refers to students whose parent and/or grandparent attended a school in which they are enrolled.) My argument then, as now, is that doing so would be a crucial step in advancing our nation’s efforts to finally become meritocratic.
Fortunately, this issue has increasingly come to the fore in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the overt consideration of race in college admissions. I use the word “overt” because race remains a de facto consideration in admissions due to the fact that legacy admissions, along with preferences for children of faculty/staff and wealthy donors – not to mention recruited athletes – overwhelmingly favors white applicants. The research is absolutely conclusive regarding that point.
To this end, I was quite pleased to learn that Indiana Senator Todd Young joined his colleague, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, in introducing a bill to curtail legacy admissions in higher education. Young, who is a Republican, and Kaine, who is a Democrat, co-sponsored the Merit-Based Educational Reforms Institutional Transparency Act. Given the stark and often ridiculous partisan divide that permeates our politics, it is heartening to witness such cooperation regarding an issue of great importance.
Dubbed the MERIT Act, the legislation seeks to level the playing field vis-à-vis students who are vying for a spot in colleges and universities. According to a report from a nonprofit organization called Education Reform Now, more than 100 colleges and universities have ended legacy preferences since 2015. However, the group reported that 787 institutions still employed the practice as of 2020.
With reference to the proposed legislation, Senator Young said in a statement, “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.” Young’s sentiment is clear and unambiguous. Kudos to Indiana’s senior senator.
The bill reads in part, “To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require the standards for accreditation of an institution of higher education to assess the institution‘s adoption of admissions practices that refrain from preferential treatment in admissions based on an applicant’s relationship to alumni of, or donors to, the institution, to authorize a feasibility study on data collection, and for other purposes.”
The MERIT Act goes on to bar legacy admissions as “the determinative factor” in considering applicants. This is somewhat problematic because it does not go as far as the Supreme Court did in banning race as a consideration. In other words, if race cannot be considered at all in college admissions, being a legacy should not be considered at all. Still, I applaud Young and Kaine for prying open a door that has heretofore been very securely locked.
I appreciate and applaud our political leaders who take steps to move America in the direction of living up to its aspirational creed as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Further, I am hopeful that this collaborative effort will herald a new day in our nation with regard to bipartisanship. There are myriad challenges that should not be shackled to the limiting labels of “liberal” or “conservative”, “Republican” or “Democrat”, and the like. May it be so.