Study challenges prejudice against Asians in admissions


The affirmative action debate was conceived in part (by opponents of affirmative action) as a matter of protecting the rights of Asian Americans. These students outperform other groups on SAT and ACT and would gain significantly more places at top colleges if admissions focused on academics, the argument goes. After all, the number of Asian American students has become stagnant at many top colleges and universities (although it is well above their share of the American population). And the admission rate of Asian American students is lower than that of other groups in these colleges.

But what if prejudices don’t explain these realities?

A report released today by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce finds no “strong evidence” of discrimination against Asian American applicants in admissions to the most selective 91 colleges.

The report says:

  • The share of Asian American students was “consistent” with the share of Asian American applicants who are “highly qualified”.
  • While the admission rate of Asian Americans is indeed lower than that of other groups in selective colleges, “they are also much more likely to apply to these colleges, regardless of their test scores.”
  • “Even if standardized test scores were the only factor considered in admissions, the share of Asian Americans in the most selective colleges would not increase by more than 2 percentage points.”

The study is based in part on simulations of admission decisions.

“We assessed how enrollments would change if colleges only considered test scores in their admissions process. Test-only admissions would increase the share of enrollment to Asian Americans at the most selective colleges by 12%. at 14% “, indicates the report,

“Why shouldn’t the percentage of Asian American students increase more? Asks the report. “Asian American students are not monolithic. They have varied backgrounds, interests, accomplishments and test scores. Almost half of Asian American university students attend open access institutions, and 40% of Asian American students have below average standardized test scores. “

“If we were to use test-based merit as a singular admission requirement, the payoff for Asian American applicants would be marginal,” said lead author of the study, Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center. on Education and the Workforce. “But on the other hand, 21% of Asian American applicants who were previously admitted would no longer be eligible.”

The research comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear an appeal from a lawsuit against Harvard University over its affirmative action programs. This lawsuit – dismissed by the court so far – is based on the idea that Harvard is using affirmative action to discriminate against Asian applicants.

Report Details

How do researchers try to prove their points?

“Looking at the most selective 91 colleges, there is little year-over-year change in the share of enrollments for Asian American students,” the report says. Critics argue that such stability is suspect, as the candidate pools change every year. On the contrary, the candidate pool is quite stable when one considers a metric that affirmative action critics like to use: tests. “

The report continues, “Typically only 4-6% of students score SAT above 1350 (out of 1600). Over the past two decades, the 91 most selective colleges have accounted for 6-8% of all four-year university enrollment, so a sufficient number of students typically score above 1350. to occupy the majority of seats in these colleges. The share of those top scores held by Asian American and Pacific Islander students was remarkably consistent: around 12% in 2000, 2008, and 2012. In 2016, Asian American and Pacific Islander students held 15% of these scores – and their share of more selective college seats has increased accordingly. “

As for the higher rejection rates of Asian students, the report says that among students who scored 1300 or higher on the SAT (the top quartile of test scores among selective college applicants), 65% of U.S. students of Asian descent applied to one of the country’s 91 most selective colleges. In contrast, only 50 percent of non-Asian students did so. Among students scoring below 1,300, 12% of Asian American students applied to one of the more selective colleges, but only 5% of non-U.S. Students did so.

Next, the researchers did their SAT admissions simulations.

“To illustrate their claim that the share of Asian American students is too low, opponents of affirmative action refer to selective colleges, as well as high schools, which have no admissions race-conscious and end up with a significant share of Asian American students. They imply that while colleges had “fair” admissions processes that took no account of race at all, American students would ‘Asian descent would gain many more places, “the report said.” The implicit argument of opponents of affirmative action is that if all selective colleges were “fair” and seen only as a race-blind measure the results tests, “Asian registrations would increase.

The simulation found that if colleges only considered SAT scores, “enrollments for Asian Americans still wouldn’t change much.”

The researchers determined that of the 4.1 million first-year high school students in 2009, 120,000 attended one of the 91 most selective colleges.

“By ranking all members of that freshman class who applied to one of the most selective colleges based on their test scores only, and admitting those who achieved the highest 120,000 scores (by selecting random students to solve ties), there are some notable characteristics of the hypothetical class in colleges more selective compared to the actual class of students, ”the report states.

The difference of two percentage points was only one of the results.

“Our reflective experiment also found that under a test-only admissions system, median SAT scores for accepted students would increase by 70 points for Asian Americans and 90 points for Americans. non-Asians, which suggests that any so-called Asian penalty is closer to 20 points than 140 points, “the report said.

The report points out that the thought experiment of admitting a hypothetical class solely on the basis of test scores was just that, and not a way colleges should act.

“While moving to a test-only admissions process may seem like a way to eliminate any bias against Asian Americans – even a 20-point penalty on the test – colleges have a competing goal in mind. : constitute a class with multifaceted achievements. that go beyond skills to take tests, ”the report says. “The purpose of holistic admissions is to view the student as a whole, evaluating their accomplishments in the context of individual experience and college needs. College officials view high school [grade point average], class ranking and test results, but they also assess talents, interests and background when forming a new class. Colleges don’t just look at numbers, they look at people. “

Critics of affirmative action

What do critics think of the affirmative action of the findings?

Swann Lee, spokesperson for the Asian American Coalition for Education, which opposes affirmative action, dismissed them as irrelevant.

“The problem is that Asian American applicants are discriminated against on the basis of race among applicants with similar qualifications,” she said. “They have a much lower admission rate than applicants from other races with similar qualifications. The question has never been whether standardized tests should be the only standard for admission.”

The fact remains, she said, that admission rates for Asian Americans are lower than those for other students.

The study mentions “irrelevant things” that give the impression “that the study is misinformed about the real issues,” she said.

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