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Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have put forth a groundbreaking legislative proposal known as the Merit-Based Educational Reforms and Institutional Transparency Act, or MERIT Act. The legislation aims to eliminate the practice of considering an applicant’s relationship to school alumni and donors in college admissions, a move designed to foster a more equitable and merit-based system.
Challenging Legacy Preferences
The MERIT Act seeks to ban accredited higher education institutions from granting preferential treatment in admissions processes based on an applicant’s ties to alumni or donors. This amendment to the Higher Education Act is coupled with a mandatory study to enhance data collection on the influence of legacy and donor relationships in admission decisions.
Legacy Preferences in Higher Education
Approximately half of higher education institutions provided some form of legacy preference to applicants in 2020, with 80% of highly-selective institutions weighing legacy status. Critics argue that such preferences perpetuate an elite class, favoring the children of the existing elite. Richard Reeves from the Brookings Institution questions whether these institutions should focus on meritocracy or contribute to passing societal advantages from one generation to the next.
The legislative push comes in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision that concluded race-conscious admission programs as unconstitutionally discriminatory. This decision halted the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions, impacting the longstanding affirmative action policies aimed at addressing systemic inequities.
Student-Led Advocacy at Georgetown University
Student activism at Georgetown University gained momentum after the Supreme Court decision. The College Democrats initiated a petition urging the school to end legacy preferences in admissions. Over a thousand students, faculty, and alumni have signed the petition, highlighting a growing demand for more equitable admissions practices.
Legacy student Joe Massaua reflects on his college application process and the potential influence of his legacy status. Despite his love for Georgetown, he acknowledges flaws in the system and supports reforms for fairer admissions. Massaua’s story underscores the complexity and introspection among legacy students regarding the impact of their status on admissions.
Bipartisan Support for Merit-Based Admissions
Senators Kaine and Young express bipartisan support for merit-based admissions, emphasizing the need to put merit first and address the inherent disparities in legacy preferences. The senators are encouraged by universities like Wesleyan and Carnegie Mellon, which have already taken steps to end legacy admissions preference.
The MERIT Act aligns with a broader movement advocating for the end of legacy preferences in college admissions. Representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have labeled legacy admissions as “affirmative action for the privileged,” emphasizing the importance of creating a level playing field for all applicants.
While the fate of the MERIT Act in Congress remains uncertain, the growing bipartisan movement underscores a collective call for reform in the college admissions landscape. The legislation aims to reshape the narrative, placing merit and fairness at the forefront of higher education admissions.