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Proposed Mass. Bill Seeks to End Legacy and Donor Preferences in Higher Ed Admissions

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The Massachusetts House is considering a bill that would require higher education institutions like Harvard to pay a fee for admissions processes that consider legacy status or relationships to donors or that include an early decision plan.

Co-filed by Massachusetts State Rep. Simon Cataldo and State Senator Pavel M. Payano, the bill would require all higher education institutions in the state to disclose information about their admissions processes and would charge institutions a “public service fee” proportional to the size of their endowment for policies that violate its guidelines.

The bill was also co-sponsored by Massachusetts State Reps. Samantha Montaño, Francisco E. Paulino, Carmine Lawrence Gentile, David H.A. LeBoeuf ’13, James K. Hawkins, Sean Garballey, Patrick Joseph Kearney, and Danillo A. Sena. LeBoeuf is a former Crimson News editor.

For Payano, the motivation for the proposed bill is “ensuring that the higher ed application process for private schools is done in an equitable manner.”

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“These practices are unfair, and they prevent working-class, hardworking students from being able to have access to these types of opportunities that are life-changing not for themselves, but for their entire family,” Payano said.

The revenue from the public service fee would fund select Massachusetts community colleges. According to the plan outlined in the bill, Harvard would have to pay 0.2 percent of its endowment to continue considering legacy status in admissions, or about $100 million a year.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

“If the bill goes into place, we think it creates about 25,000 slots of free community college,” Cataldo said. “If the schools decide to continue using these pernicious practices, that public service fee that goes into place would create opportunity for the very students that the schools are systematically keeping out of their campuses.”

“Community colleges, unlike many elite colleges and universities, put students in the jobs that are needed most in Massachusetts,” he added.

The proposed bill comes ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions’ lawsuit against Harvard, which is expected to overturn race-based affirmative action in universities’ admissions processes nationwide.

Massachusetts State Rep. Samantha Montaño, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said it would act as a “counterbalance” for diversity if affirmative action is overturned, describing it as a “valiant effort to address inequities in our private institutions.”

Cataldo said the Supreme Court case presents an “opportunity” for Harvard to “think creatively” about equity in their admissions practices.

“Legacy preference and donor relations preference have no place in an equitable or fair admission scheme, with or without race-based affirmative action,” Cataldo said.

Montaño, whose district comprises several neighborhoods in Boston, said the effort would be “probably a huge battle” given the expected pushback from universities targeted by the legislation.

“When we talk about taxing wealthy institutions or people, it’ll be the same issue where they just pour money into stopping it,” she said.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at claire.yuan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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