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June 28, 2023

Fee proposed for college admissions policies related to legacies and donors

Photo | Courtesy of Adobe Stock College admissions policies are under scrutiny.

Two teachers-turned-lawmakers called for cracking down on certain college admissions practices Tuesday that they said equate to "affirmative action for the rich."

A bill filed by Rep. Simon Cataldo and Sen. Pavel Payano targets preferences for so-called legacies and donor relations, along with the application option of a binding early decision.

Under their proposal (H 3760), a higher education institution in Massachusetts that uses any of those admissions policies would be cast as an "offending" school and forced to pay into a state trust fund for the benefit of public community colleges. That fee would be calculated based on the size of the school's endowment.

Cataldo told the Higher Education Committee that legacy preference is still used by colleges and universities and "systematically disadvantage[s] minorities." And Payano said the early-decision process does a "disservice to low-income students" by boxing them out of comparing financial aid offerings from multiple schools.

"As a former teacher and a former member of the school committee in Lawrence, I will say that this is a conversation that students have a lot," Payano said.

Cataldo estimated the state could collect around $120 million for the proposed community college trust fund if none of the higher ed institutions in Massachusetts changed their current policies.

Sen. Jo Comerford, one of the committee's co-chairs, said that other states have passed similar provisions.

"And I don't know about you, but I was thinking about the Supreme Court and affirmative action as you were speaking, and it really brought the weight of this issue to the fore for me," Comerford said. 

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