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New federal bill could prevent admissions based on legacy status

People walk outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Proposed federal legislation could curtail the college admission practice of giving preferential treatment to applicants related to alumni or donors.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) want to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prevent all institutions that participate in federal student aid programs from considering legacy status in the admissions process. Merkley and Bowman introduced the “Fair College Admissions for Students Act” on Feb. 2.

Dean of Admission Heath Einstein said TCU does not track legacy admissions, and if the measure was passed it would not inhibit TCU’s admission process. Einstein said giving preferential treatment in the admissions process is problematic.

A press release from Merkley’s office said that “legacy admissions overwhelmingly benefit wealthy and well-connected students —who are predominantly white — at a time when access to higher education for Black and Latino and Latina students is under attack.”

Students applying to TCU are asked if they have any relatives that attended the university.

“We ask the question as a way to better understand a student’s connection to and potential interest in enrolling at TCU,” Einstein said. “Admitting students based on legacy status is fraught with inequity.”

In a 2018 survey by Inside Higher Ed, 42% of private institutions and 6% of public schools said they factor in legacy status.

The purpose of the bill is to allow all students, no matter their race or economic status, the opportunity to gain admission to universities. 

Einstein said that if the bill were to become a law, TCU would “have no problem continuing to enroll academically gifted first-year and transfer classes.” 

So far, the bill — named the Fair College Admissions for Students Act — has only been introduced to the House and Senate and referred to their respective committees. 

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