Education Secretary Cardona Considers Options to Discourage Legacy Admissions in College

Frank Fang
By Frank Fang
September 24, 2023Executive Branch
Education Secretary Cardona Considers Options to Discourage Legacy Admissions in College
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks at the Public Mass Meeting of the 114th National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) National Convention in Boston on July 29, 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he was open to using whatever means available to dissuade colleges from giving preferential admissions to the children of wealthy donors and alumni.

Mr. Cardona, in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, was asked about the possibility of using federal funds as either a carrot or rod on legacy admissions practices.

“I would be interested in pulling whatever levers I can pull as secretary of Education to ensure that, especially if we’re giving out financial aid and loans, that we’re doing it for institutions that are providing value,” Mr. Cardona said.

The practice of legacy admissions has come under scrutiny after the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action policies at U.S. colleges and universities in June. The ruling was based on two separate lawsuits brought by the advocacy group Students for Fair Admission (SFFA) against Harvard College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In a statement (pdf) after the Supreme Court’s ruling, SFFA called on elite universities to end legacy admission practices.

“For decades, our nation’s most elite universities have given preferences to the children of alumni, faculty and staff, athletes, and notably, substantial donors,” the group said. “The elimination of these preferences is long overdue, and SFFA hopes that these opinions will compel higher education institutions to end these practices.”

In early July, activist groups filed a complaint against Harvard for granting applicants “special preferences” if they are related to wealthy donors or alumni of the institution. Weeks later, the U.S. Department of Education took up the complaint and opened an investigation of Harvard.

Like some Democrat lawmakers, Mr. Cardona criticized universities for giving preferences to legacy admits.

“Your last name could get you into a school, or the fact that you can write a check could get you into a school,” Mr. Cardona said.

However, Mr. Cardona did not voice support for legislative proposals banning legacy admission. He said universities should have the final say on the issue.

“There is no edict coming from the secretary of Education,” Mr. Cardona said.

On July 26, Democrat lawmakers led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) introduced bicameral legislation (H.R.4900 and S.2524) called the Fair College Admissions for Students Act. According to a press release, the legislation would ban higher education institutions from participating in federal student aid programs if they engage in legacy admissions.

In August, Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote a letter asking Mr. Cardona to take several actions to end legacy and donor preference.

“Providing resources to colleges and universities to support their transitions away from legacy and donor preference,” one of the requests says in the letter. “Aggressively pursuing investigations of complaints regarding legacy and donor preference and other admissions policies that provide preferential treatment.”

Without action, Mr. Cardona warned that the nation could experience the same setbacks that Califonia had to deal with after the state ended affirmative action in 1996.

“If we go the route that California went when they abolished affirmative action, what chance do we have competing against China?” Cardona said. “This is more than just ensuring diverse learning environments. This is about our strength as a country.”

According to a 2022 Pew Research Insitute poll, 75 percent of Americans believed legacy admissions should not be a factor in admissions, up from 68 percent in 2019.

Republican presidential hopefuls Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have said that legacy admissions should end.

“I think the question is how do you continue to create a culture where education is the goal for every single part of our community? One of the things that Harvard could do to make that even better is to eliminate any legacy programs where they have preferential treatment for legacy kids, not allow for the professors, their kids, to come to Harvard as well,” Mr. Scott told Fox News on June 29.

“Here’s a good path forward for Harvard after the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action: No racial preferences. No legacy admissions.” Mr. Ramaswamy wrote on X on July 1. “Time to put ‘merit’ back into America.”

From The Epoch Times

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