- In response to the nationwide college bribery scam, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced legislation Wednesday that would eliminate tax deductions for donations made to colleges unless the institutions have policies asserting that family donations don't influence admissions.
- The bill would amend the Higher Education Act to require colleges receiving federal aid to implement such a policy. They also would have to report on applicants and enrolled students who are children of donors.
- Under the proposed legislation, donors to institutions without such policies could take tax deductions from only $100,000 of gifts made six years during or prior to their children's attendance.
The same week news broke that several wealthy parents had paid huge sums to get their children into elite schools, Wyden vowed he would introduce legislation to change the "corrupt system" and limit the tax benefits of college donors.
"While middle-class families are pinching pennies to pay tuition and graduates are buried under tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, wealthy families are greasing the skids to get their children into elite schools on the backs of those same families and graduates," he said in the bill's announcement Wednesday. "It's absurd that the tax code subsidizes the top 1% buying their way into school."
Liz Clark, vice president of policy and research at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), told Education Dive in an email that the organization has been encouraging colleges to develop a formal policy governing the admissions process and that it will be reviewing the bill "closely."
"We hope to ultimately see a policy that affirms that charitable giving is meant to be transformational and not transactional," she added.
William Singer, the facilitator of the bribery scheme, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other felonies related to the scandal in March. He described his method — in which students got admission through fake athletic profiles, paid-off coaches and artificially boosted test scores — as a guaranteed "side door" into college.
Yet he also spoke of a "back door," in which admissions officials would give applicants a "second look" if they were the children of donors. Though this doesn't guarantee admission, there have been several high-profile cases in which parents made donations to colleges before their children were admitted.
It's difficult to predict how many donations Wyden's bill would affect if it passed.
Still, some groups were vocal about their opposition to the bill before its full details were released. Brian Flahaven, senior director for advocacy at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, told Education Dive earlier this year that policies that hinder colleges' ability to raise donations could negatively affect cost and access.