By Simon Romero

From The New York Times

“The New Mexico program is very close to ideal,” said Michael Dannenberg, vice president of strategic initiatives and higher education policy at the nonprofit advocacy group Education Reform Now. Considering the state’s income levels and available resources, he added that New Mexico’s program is among the most generous in the country.

Mr. Dannenberg emphasized that New Mexico is going beyond what larger, more prosperous states like Washington and Tennessee have already done. Programs in other states often limit tuition assistance to community colleges, exclude some residents because of family income or impose conditions requiring students to work part time.

Read the full article here.

By Michael Dannenberg & James Murphy

Spurred by the work of Education Reform Now, a group of New York State legislators is proposing to push public and private colleges to end the legacy preference and binding early admission policies that disproportionately harm racial minority, working class, low-income, and first generation students.

Below is our summary of the legislation, background information, common questions, and our answers.

The Fair College Admissions Act

Introduced by New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn) & New York State Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn)

Summary in Brief

There are significant disparities in higher education opportunity and attainment in New York State. According to United States Census data, just 38 percent of New York State residents over the age of 24 have a bachelor’s degree. Within this age group, 75 percent of New Yorkers who identify as Black and 79 percent who identify as Latino/Hispanic do not possess a bachelor’s degree.[2] The financial implications are significant. Median income of those with only a high school diploma is but 53 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree. Further, they are three times more likely to live in poverty than those with a bachelor’s degree.[3] Increasing access to high quality higher education for all New Yorkers is vital to increasing social mobility, creating a 21st-century workforce, and strengthening the economy.

Unfair admissions policies and practices such as the legacy preference and early decision are not the only source of inequity in college degree attainment in New York, but they are a significant reason for disparities suffered by students from historically underserved racial and economic subgroups as compared to their more advantaged peers.

Currently, a large number of private and a few public four-year colleges and universities in New York State consider whether a prospective student is related to alumni as part of the admissions process, a policy commonly known as the legacy preference. Beneficiaries are overwhelmingly white and almost never poor. Nationally, the preference is estimated to be worth a 160 point boost to an applicant’s SAT score. Accordingly, research indicates legacy students are accepted at a much higher rate than equally qualified applicants. Further, highly selective colleges fill anywhere from 10% to 25% of their class with legacy students – a percentage that typically exceeds the percentage of Black students enrolled as well as the percentage of Latino/Hispanic students enrolled, sometimes both combined.

Similar inequities that undermine diversity on campus are seen in the binding early admissions process. In 2017, 30% of four-year colleges in New York State employed an early decision admission policy that allows students to apply in the fall of their senior year and receive an application decision by December in exchange for committing to attend that institution and foregoing an opportunity to compare financial aid packages offered by competing institutions of higher education.[4] Applying early decision is estimated to be worth a 100 point boost to an applicant’s SAT score. Again and accordingly, early decision applicants are admitted at much higher rates than other applicants. At a number of New York colleges between 40 and 60 percent of enrolled students are admitted early decision.[5] This “shadow admissions system” favors students with strong college advising, in-the-know parents, and with families with the ability to commit to a college or university without considering the size of a financial aid package.

Some 303,649 students received TAP aid in 2019-20.[6] The average grant was $3,310.[7] Although the New York legislature made a historic investment in TAP in 2021 and increased the maximum TAP grant by $500, a “TAP Gap” – that is the difference between the cost of tuition and how much students get through the program – still exists. The maximum TAP grant is $5,665, while average tuition and fees for full-time students are $7,330 at CUNY schools and the average tuition and fees are $8,810 at SUNY schools.[8] An independent estimate of the Fair College Admissions Act indicates TAP funding could increase by as much as 20% annually should no relevant college alter underlying admissions practices like the legacy preference and binding early admission that undermine diversity in enrollment.

The Legislation:
List of Supporters


CUNY Rising Alliance

Democrats for Education Reform – New York

Ed Mobilizer

Education Reform Now

New America

Prospanica – NY

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What’s the harm in giving legacies a small tip in the admissions process?

The legacy preference is not a small tip. One study estimated the boost it gives to applicants as equivalent to 160 extra points on the SAT.[9] A well-regarded Harvard study of highly selective universities showed that legacies enjoy a 45 percentage point advantage in their admit rates when compared to equally qualified applicants.[10] These benefits go overwhelmingly to wealthy, white applicants who, thanks to the long history of discrimination against people of color and individuals from low-income households, are much more likely to be legacies.

Nationally, typically between 10% and 25% of enrolled students at highly selective colleges are legacy preference beneficiaries. Among colleges in New York State, at Cornell University legacies make up 15 percent of the Class of 2024 whereas Black students make up only 8 percent of those enrolled.[11] Colgate University, too, enrolls more legacies than Black students. At Fordham University, legacy applicants are a third more likely to be admitted than other applicants.

Q: Isn’t the ban on early decision taking away a choice from students who want to apply early?

No. The Fair College Admissions Act allows colleges to employ an “early action” plan, whereby applicants submit an application in the fall and receive an admissions decision in December but are not required to commit to enroll at that point if admitted. There is little problem with the early action choice being available. There is a large problem with the early decision option, which is effectively only available to those with financial means.

Early decision admission policies favor students with strong college advising and the ability to commit to a college or university without considering a financial aid package. It puts first-generation students, students at under-resourced high schools, and students from working class and low-income backgrounds at a substantial disadvantage, because they are more likely to lack awareness of the strategic benefit of applying early and do not have the luxury of committing to an institution without knowing the after financial aid cost of attendance. First-generation students are two-thirds as likely as their more advantaged peers to apply early decision, according to Common Application data. Black students are half as likely.

As with the legacy preference, applying early decision provides a significant boost to applicants, worth an extra 100 points on the SAT according to a study by Harvard University’s Chris Avery. Hence, at most colleges, early decision applicants are much more likely to be admitted than regular decision ones. In 2017, early decision applicants’ odds of admissions were more than twice those of regular decision applicants at Marist College, Skidmore College, Cornell University, and Barnard University. At Columbia University, their odds were 3.5 times greater.

Currently, 30 percent of the bachelor degree granting institutions of higher education in New York State employ an early decision admission policy. Many of them, particularly highly selective institutions with low admit rates, enroll between 40 and 7     0 percent of their freshmen class through early decision. In 2020, for example, 62 percent of Colgate’s freshman class was enrolled through early decision.[12] In 2019, 67 percent of NYU’s freshman class was enrolled through early decision.[13] Between the legacy preference and early decision policies, it should be no wonder so many academically talented, working class and low-income students effectively are shut out of attending New York State’s best colleges.

Q: What does this bill do to address affordability?

The bill addresses affordability in two ways. First, it increases access to highly selective colleges, which often commit to meeting an accepted applicant’s full financial need and are thus among the most affordable options in the nation. Second, the penalty imposed on colleges that violate the prohibition on the legacy and early decision could raise tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars for the TAP Program, increasing the average annual grant per full-time equivalent student by as much as $776 to $4,086 or make almost 35,000 additional students eligible for a full grant, if the maximum amount of penalty funds (approximately $197 million, based on 2020 enrollment and tuition data) is raised.

CUNY’s two and four-year institutions could receive an additional $63 million in revenue due to contributions to TAP as per the Fair College Admissions Act. SUNY’s two- and four year institutions could receive an additional $77 million in TAP revenue.

Q: Doesn’t the legacy ban hurt racial minorities who finally after generations are enrolled at many of these schools and will be able to pass on the benefit to their children?

The number of legacies who are people of color likely      has gone up marginally in the past decade or so, but small improvements will take generations to catch up to white students. Even more important, there are vastly more racial minority students who are not related to alumni and are therefore disadvantaged (i.e. harmed) by the legacy preference.

If any racial group deserves a second preference in addition to that associated with race-based affirmative action, it’s low-income racial minorities as opposed to those who are legacies. Giving anyone an advantage based solely on the accomplishment of their parents flies in the face of equity.

Q: Won’t this undermine donations? Doesn’t it infringe on academic freedom? What about colleges that can’t pay the penalty?

First, civil rights shouldn’t be for sale, and this is a civil rights issue. Civil rights are more important than concerns about fundraising or red herrings like government intrusion. And academic freedom is about what goes on in the classroom and research outside it; it’s not about fair access to an institution.

Moreover, let’s remember that many of the colleges implicated have quite a bit of wealth. Every week last year, Columbia University’s endowment grew by over $50 million. Plus colleges don’t have to pay any penalty. They can choose to end unfair admissions practices like the legacy preference and binding early admission that fail to reward achievement, undermine diversity, and are just plain un-American.

Q: Are you going to hold legacy status against applicants? How will you enforce the ban on legacy admissions?

A ban on legacy admissions does not mean colleges will no longer enroll or be prohibited from enrolling the relatives of alumni. Johns Hopkins University removed the legacy preference from its admissions process, but its Class of 2024 was still about 4 percent children of alumni. Notably after eliminating the legacy preference, Johns Hopkins Pell Grant student, Black, and Latino/Hispanic enrollment rates all increased markedly.

The bill prohibits institutions from asking applicants where their parents went to college, although they can collect that data for applicants if and after the applicant submits a deposit indicating their intention to enroll. Some 103 private New York colleges use the Common Application system, which asks applicants whether and where their parents attended college, but admissions offices can opt in advance not to see those responses in the data they receive from the Common Application.

Q: What gives the state the authority to prohibit admissions practices, particularly at private colleges?

All public and private colleges in the United States that receive federal Title IV financial aid funding are subject to regulations and obligations as a condition of receipt, including state licensure. New York State provides its own direct funding to Title IV colleges and state tax breaks and state financial aid revenue to private colleges. Twenty percent of TAP recipients attend private colleges and universities.

Q: How much will this bill cost?

A: There is zero cost to taxpayers associated with the Fair College Admissions Act.



[1] Note: The legislation does not prohibit colleges and universities from implementing non-binding “early action” admissions policies that allow students to apply early but do not prohibit them from pursuing admission to other institutions at the same time or subsequent to an admissions offer.

[2] Based on an analysis of American Community Survey data for 2020.

[3] Jennifer Ma, Matea Pender, and Meredith Welch, Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society, The College Board (2019).

[4] Based on an analysis of Common Data Set reports, 2017.

[5] Based on an analysis of Common Data Set reports.

[6] Higher Education Services Corporation, 2020-21 Annual Report, New York.

[7] Higher Education Services Corporation, 2020-21 Annual Report, New York.

[8] For CUNY average tuition, see CUNY, Tuition for CUNY Undergraduate Programs and Fees for CUNY Undergraduate Programs (2019). For SUNY average tuition, see SUNY, Tuition and Fees (July 2021).

[9] Thomas J. Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung, “The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities,” Social Science Quarterly (June 2005).

[10] Michael Hurwitz, “The Impact of Legacy Status on Undergraduate Admissions at Elite Colleges and Universities,” Economics of Education Review (2011).

[11] Cornell University’s student government has called on the administration to end the legacy preference practice. See Claire Tempelman, “It’s 2022. Why do we Still Practice Legacy Admissions?,” Cornell Daily Sun (Mar 2022)

[12] Based on analysis of Colgate’s Common Data Set 2020-21.

[13] Based on analysis of NYU’s Common Data Set 2019-20.

Dr. Christina Grant, State Superintendent of Education
Office of the State Superintendent of Education
1050 First St NE
Washington, D.C. 20002

Dear D.C. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Christina Grant:

The D.C. School Report Card and STAR Framework was launched in December 2018 to give families, communities, and policymakers a tool that provides essential information about annual school performance. It comprises specific metrics such as student achievement, student growth, improved English language attainment, graduation rate, and school environment. It provides comparative school data on how all students are performing in each of these metrics so that families can decide which school best meets their child’s needs.

Recently, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) voted to remove the single summative rating from the D.C. School Report Card and make a dashboard of various metrics instead. This change would dramatically reshape the D.C. School Report Card without making equity a critical guiding principle. While well-intentioned, this proposal fails to make transformational change in our accountability system.

D.C. residents want our district leaders to make bold changes and adopt new ways of thinking to recover from the covid-19 pandemic so that their child, and every child, has a just and equitable public education. In furtherance of this, we urge you to adopt the following five recommendations:

(1) Re-strategize and refocus outreach efforts to ensure that families in all eight wards know that the D.C. school report card and star framework is a tool that they can use to help them make decisions about schools.Families want to know that their child’s school is safe, joyful, and provides them with high-quality learning opportunities but there are still many families who have no idea that the DC School Report Card exists. A recent report from the D.C. Policy Center confirms that families use a variety of tools to make decisions: school visit (48 percent), word of mouth (48 percent), STAR or school quality ratings (37 percent), school report card data (28 percent), school websites (26 percent), promotional materials (10 percent), and other (10 percent).

(2) Get buy-in from families and D.C. residents in all eight wards, particularly those furthest from opportunity, to determine how best to use the D.C. School Report Card and Star Framework to serve their students better.The lessons learned from these focus groups can help the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and the SBOE identify ways to support schools in identifying resources and inputs that will reinvigorate joy in learning, facilitate academic growth, and put students on a path to future success.

(3) Improve, but do not eliminate the single summative rating. D.C. must keep the summative rating so that all families have access to clearly communicated, detailed information that provides a single transparent metric for determining how well their child’s school serves all students. We urge District leaders to improve the summative rating by assigning greater weights to schools providing high-quality learning to students with special needs, English language learners, students designated as “at-risk,” and students experiencing significant social change. This is the equitable approach we should be adopting as a city. One key area to consider in the future is tieing summative ratings to reading proficiency to ensure that the District remains serious about its commitment to ensuring every student is equipped with this most fundamental civil right.

(4) Administer the district-wide annual assessment exam this spring. The District uses statewide summative assessments, like the PARCC exam, to provide a baseline understanding of all D.C. students’ academic progress to drive programmatic changes and direct resources to schools that need them most. Unfortunately, it has been two years since the District last administered the PARCC exam. Though these tests may not be perfect, we should fix them, not end them. Rather than just ending testing, students, parents, educators, and policymakers in the District should have a real review to see what is working, what isn’t, and how we can change these important tests to meet the needs of students and educators. DC education leaders might consider shortening the length of the exam and making it more useful for students and families by ensuring the exam provides more rapid, useful feedback on how the student is progressing and what support they need to succeed.

(5) Get serious about innovation and school improvement. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to set aside 7% of Title I funds to support schools identified in need of support under state accountability systems. The DC State Report Card should demonstrate how those funds are utilized, and our local research-practice partners must analyze their impact to guide improvement.

Covid-19 has greatly exacerbated already existing inequities between student groups. That is why we owe it to our students to transform our public education system so we more effectively put them on a path to success. We urge the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to adopt these recommendations so that every student receives a just and equitable education in the District of Columbia.

In service,

Eva Johnson Ward 8 Parent
Michael Dannenberg Ward 3 Parent
Linda Epstein Ward 3 Parent
Lea Crusey Ward 6 Parent
Debra Gaines Ward 8
Amanda Borden Ward 2 Parent
Tynejia Grant Ward 7
Sherry Ward 8
Maura Marino Ward 1
Sullivan Ward 2 Parent
Cassandra Gentry Ward 6 Parent
Kyle Myers Ward 5
Irina Shaman Ward 6 Parent
Odessa Bolton Ward 6
Trudy Murray Ward 1 Parent
Michael Stewart Ward 5 Parent
Joshua Hodge Ward 6
Ward 7
Kyle Myers Ward 5
Nicole D’Angelo Ward 5 Parent
Scott Pearson Ward 3
Artecka Brown Ward 5 Parent
Isis Rustin Ward 1
Josh Boots Ward 6
Minetre Martin Ward 4
Sarah Bradach Ward 3
Margie Yeager Ward 3 Parent
Michael Sriqui Ward 3 Parent
Matthew Nocella Ward 4
Morrell Miles Ward 7 Parent
Catharine Bellinger Ward 1
Marita Ri Ward 5
David Grosso Ward 5
Erika Harrell Ward 7 Parent
Jaqueline Castaneda Ward 1
Maria Harrell Logan Ward 5
Bethany Little Ward 3 Parent
Morello Miles Ward 7 Parent
Ellen Dodsworth
Jessica Giles Ward 7
Will Stoetzer Ward 5
Eric Paisner Ward 6 Parent
Julie Klingenstein Ward 2
Andrew Klingenstein Ward 2
Evelyn Fraser Ward 5
Nicholas Munyan-Penney Ward 2
Linda Jones Ward 8 Parent
Daniele Avila Ward 1 Parent
Nora Lieberman Ward 7
Tracy Barnes Ward 5 Parent


Rep. Jessica Sutter, President
Rep. Eboni-Rose Thompson, Vice President
D.C. State Board of Education




ERN Applauds Fair College Admissions for Students Act

“It’s long past time for the legacy preference to be sent to the dustbin of history ”

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 2, 2022) — Education Reform Now Vice President of Higher Education and Strategic Initiatives Michael Dannenberg, who led the last major federal effort to ban the legacy preference as senior staffer to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), released the following statement today praising the Fair College Admissions for Students Act, introduced by U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman.

“ERN is proud to have worked with Sen. Merkley and Rep. Bowman in introducing national legislation directed at ending the legacy preference in college admissions. Our staff was behind the first ever state law passed in Colorado last year doing the same.

The legacy preference undermines diversity, fails to reward true achievement, and is profoundly un-American. The way to make admissions fairer and more accessible isn’t to perpetuate privilege among a few, but to stop inequitable admissions policies entirely.

If institutions of higher education won’t act on their own, then Congress, states, municipalities, and corporate and philanthropic donors should impose financial repercussions for colleges and universities who willfully choose to perpetuate inequity.”

You can learn more about the legacy preference here.

About Education Reform Now
Education Reform Now (ERN) is a non-partisan, nonprofit think tank and advocacy organization that promotes increased resources and innovative reforms in K-16 public education, particularly for students of color and students from low-income families. We seek forward progress in public education—at the federal, state, and local level—developing and advocating for new, bold ideas and mutually reinforcing policies in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education.


Breaking News: The Supreme Court will hear a pair of cases that challenge the race-based affirmative action policies for admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. What does this mean for higher ed equity?

Catch up with Michael Dannenberg’s op-ed from the New York Daily News, which ran on January 20.

American colleges practicing structural racism

Sometime this month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce whether it will accept a challenge to affirmative action in college admissions as practiced at Harvard University, and separately, at UNC-Chapel Hill.

As important as both these cases are for the race-based affirmative action debate, they should also serve to highlight the many forms of affirmative action for the already privileged that exist in higher education that should be dismantled. The federal government, New York State, even New York City acting alone can and should help make that happen.

The clearest and most pernicious example of affirmative action for the already advantaged in higher education is the legacy preference. The descendants of alumni that attended highly selective colleges are overwhelmingly white, almost never low-income, and receive a sizable bump in their admission odds.

At tough-to-get-into colleges, the percentage of legacy applicants who are underrepresented racial minorities is only 6.7% — slightly over half that of the regular applicant pool. 

Continue reading the full op-ed on the New York Daily News.

Strengthened Relationships to Push Education Equity

We were pleased by the confirmation of US Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, and we have been proud to work with him—both in his previous role as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education through our Connecticut chapter and post-appointment in his current office—to ensure equitable access to education and resources for all students.

Most notably, we successfully advocated to maintain statewide, annual assessments, require states to use recovery funds—which would specifically come from the $122 billion allotted to pandemic-recovery aid—to properly address learning gaps, and issue guidance prioritizing high-impact tutoring (HIT) as a proven intervention that falls within the recovery statute’s set-aside for “evidence-based” interventions. (Read more about these victories below!)


Advocated for Statewide, Summative Assessments

In coalition with various partnerships—we worked to ensure the maintenance of statewide, summative assessments in Spring 2021, and build support for the Spring 2022 administration of assessments.

We applauded Sec. Cardona for standing firm on the administration of annual statewide, summative assessments, despite pressure from opponents. ERN’s K-12 policy team detailed the importance of not using local tests in lieu of statewide, summative assessments—as doing so would undermine clear parameters laid out in ESSA that state standards and assessments must be the same, statewide, for all students in order to legally adhere to legislative decree and to fairly collect accurate data.

This summer, to lay groundwork that would help audiences better understand what exactly assessments are—and what they are not—our K-12 policy team put together a series of webinars called “Assessment Bootcamp.” Built around the idea of informing and engaging, each webinar in the series featured expert panelists and hosted an interactive Q&A session with the audience.

You can read a full wrap up of the “Assessment Bootcamp” series and learn more about key findings from the webinars here.

Assessments were also a focal area for our states this year. In the spring, ERN Colorado, working alongside Governor Polis, played a significant role in defending assessment administration, ensuring HB21-1125 to pause assessments for 2021 was replaced by HB21-1161, which would reduce the testing battery.


Pushed for COVID Relief Funding that Incorporated ERN Priorities

In the spring, we saw the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which will provide billions of dollars in vital funding to support school reopening, distance learning, and academic and social-emotional supports to help our children persist through these deeply challenging times.

To ensure that money from ARP is directly used for these purposes:


Urged the Abolition of Legacy Admissions

In partnership with crucial collaborators, this year we were able to substantially progress our commitment to ending the unfair legacy admissions at colleges and universities, which gives priority admissions to applicants who are children or grandchildren of University alumni.

This spring in Colorado, we saw a massive victory in the fight against legacy admissions when, thanks to tireless efforts of ERN Colorado Policy Director Prateek Dutta who introduced the bill idea to state lawmakers, Governor Jared Polis signed HB 21-1173 into law. Colorado is the first state to ban legacy admissions at public colleges and universities.

Polling conducted by ERN affiliate Education Reform Now Advocacy showed that 67% of respondents oppose the legacy preference (13% have no opinion), indicating that it’s high time colleges do away with the practice and take actionable steps toward a meaningful commitment to diversity and socioeconomic mobility.

Building upon this polling and Colorado’s success, we joined forces with the education advocacy group Ed Mobilizer to launch #LeaveYourLegacy—a virtual campaign that calls on college students and alumni to pledge to withhold donations until their schools end the discriminatory practice of applying a legacy preference in university admissions—a privilege of birth worth the equivalent of a 160-point boost on the SAT that disproportionately benefits white and wealthy students.

You can read more on legacy admissions and our ongoing work to end them here.


Called out Inequities in Virginia’s Higher Ed System

In the spring, ERN’s Higher Ed team released an issue brief, “Scratching the Surface: De Facto Segregation in Virginia’s Higher Ed System” that critiqued the state of Virginia’s higher education system. Their work found that, of the 15 worst public colleges and universities in America on working class and low-income student enrollment, one third are located in Virginia. The brief also noted that while 34% of Virginia 18-24-year-olds are Black or Hispanic, only three of Virginia’s 15 public four-year institutions of higher education enroll Black and Hispanic students at anywhere near a comparable rate—two of which are HBCUs.

Following the launch of the first report, ERN’s higher ed team also published deep dives on Washington and Lee Universitythe University of RichmondJames Madison University, and Christopher Newport University, calling out their lack of a meaningful commitment to diversity and their hypocrisy of inaction.

The team released a follow up with a second report that took a close look at the financial inequities in Virginia’s higher ed system. Additional publications include:


Launched Philos Conversations

While we couldn’t meet in person this year, we kicked off our virtual webinar series Philos Conversations, engaging local and national leaders on pressing issues impacting education reform.

As our series continues, make sure to take a moment to catch up on our previous Philos Conversations:


Expanded Leaders of Color Program

Leaders of Color identifies, trains, and supports community-based Black and Latino civic leaders, empowering them with the tools and resources to advance educational equity and the broader cause of racial justice. Since the program’s launch in 2018, the program has seen:

In 2022, the Leaders of Color program is expanding its reach and impact. It will continue to serve its current sites: Memphis, New York, and New Orleans, while expanding to serve the entire state of Louisiana, and to Washington, D.C. The goal? Train 400 Fellows across the U.S. by 2023 to achieve increased education and wealth equity in Black and Latino communities.


Defended Public Charter Schools Program

Along with coalition partners, we mobilized supporters in the Senate—including several on the key committees—and persuaded the Biden Administration to seek $440 million in funding for charter schools, building on our work of well over a year to persuade the Biden team to chart a moderate course, despite aggressive efforts by charter opponents to eliminate federal charter-school funding.

Our Colorado team delivered wins for the charter sector through the budgeting process that included $2M in mill levy equalization to Charter School Institute (CSI) schools and killed legislation that sought to roll back charter authorizing and appeals.

In DC, ERN had several big public charter wins included in the fiscal year 2022 budget and financial plan, with critical investments that will see a fully-funded expansion of the school-based mental-health program to all traditional and public charter schools, and an increase in the public charter facilities allowance to 3.1% in FY 2024 and beyond so schools can have safe, well-maintained schools and enough space to learn.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 15, 2021) —In a letter released today, Education Reform Now and 21 education and civil rights organizations and thought-leaders call on college presidents and boards of trustees to end the unfair and discriminatory legacy preference practice in their respective institution’s admissions practices.

The “legacy preference” provides an advantage in the college admissions process for prospective students who claim a family member among an institution’s alumni—particularly at highly selective colleges and universities. The value of the preference is equivalent to 160 extra points on the SAT. At top 30 universities, legacy students have a 45% greater chance of being admitted than non-legacy students and fill between 10% and 25% of all available slots.

In the letter, the groups note that: “to this day, the legacy preference continues to favor wealthy, white families that have lived in America for generations and benefited from past racial segregation and discriminatory policies. A 2018 lawsuit against Harvard revealed that 77% of legacy admits were white, while just 5% were Black and 9% were Hispanic/Latinx.”

The groups urge college presidents and boards of trustees to end the practice of legacy admissions on their own and remove additional admissions barriers for students from low-income backgrounds, minority students, and first-generation college students who already must overcome systemic obstacles in their education on the path to higher ed.

“The legacy preference extends privilege to the already privileged. College leaders should see that keeping it is not worth the moral compromise. Instead of clinging to the legacy preference, college leaders should be focused on extending opportunity to deserving students regardless of their family’s income or alma mater,” said Michael Dannenberg, Education Reform Now’s Vice President for Higher Education Policy.

The groups’ letter was spearheaded by Education Reform Now, and is co-signed by 18 education and civil rights organizations, including the Center for American Progress, Education Trust, New America, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), and UnidosUS.

You can view the full letter and list of signatories here.
Please note the release and letter will be updated in real time as additional signatories are added. 


Halloween is right around the corner, so in the spirit of the season we wanted to highlight something really scary. Forget ghosts and goblins. If you want to see something really frightening, look at the share of freshmen with Pell Grants enrolled at colleges Tulane University, Bucknell University, Auburn University, and William & Mary University. According to recently released data from the Department of Education, those were the two worst private and two worst public universities in the nation when it came to enrolling low-income and working-class freshmen in fall 2019, even though they each had endowments worth over $750 million in 2020. Tulane’s was worth $1.45 billion. 

Ninety percent of Pell Grant recipients come from households with incomes less than $50,000. 

To see just how horrifying these Pell rates are, we analyzed 1,585 four year colleges and universities that enrolled at least 100 freshmen in 2019. Here’s how the group looks:

Compare those percentages to the 20 worst colleges and universities when it comes to enrolling students with Pell Grants (see figure 1). The orange bars in the chart represent private colleges and universities, while the black bars represent public ones.

A few institutions deserve special Halloween prizes.

Auburn is not the only public college or university that fails to enroll low-income and working-class students, of course. The Commonwealth of Virginia stands out for having six institutions in the bottom twenty public colleges and universities and four in the bottom ten.

The worst of the worst, however, the truly terrifying colleges and universities where not even one-tenth of the Freshman class received a Pell Grant, are almost exclusively private institutions–private institutions that pay no taxes, benefit from local infrastructure, and receive federal and state financial aid dollars as well as other forms of revenue that ultimately come from taxpayers.  

Although we are having some fun with this Halloween theme, the failures of the colleges highlighted here are very serious.  Most of the colleges who made our list have two things in common:  large endowments and high graduation rates. While some of that graduation rate is attributable to the fact that they enroll wealthier students, it is also likely that they spend a great deal more on supporting the students they enroll. Increasing their Pell shares to 20 percent of their freshman classes could have a transformative effect on students’ lives.

The fact that these rates were so low the year before COVID-19 hit is alarming. The pandemic disproportionately hurt low-income students, even as many wealthier colleges and universities got wealthier due to massive returns on their endowments. Tulane’s endowment, for instance, earned a 30% return in the past year.  

Bountiful resources and shame doesn’t seem to be enough to push these “engines of inequality” to serve a greater percentage of the tens of thousands of academically talented, working class and low-income students pursuing higher education at other schools. That is why we support Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) & Jacky Rosen’s (D-NV) legislation that would create a financial incentive for super wealthy colleges to serve a minimum level of working class and low-income students or contribute a public service fee to under resourced, struggling four-year colleges – like many HBCUs – that are serving those students. And it is why we are urging students and alumni of those schools to participate in a #LeaveYourLegacy campaign that would link future donations to their schools’ actions in furtherance of a genuine commitment to diversity and socioeconomic opportunity.

Check out THIS table to see how your current college or your alma mater does when it comes to making a meaningful commitment to diversity.