Discrimination Against Asians In College Admissions

Asian-Americans and college admissions. Is the bar set higher for Asian-Americans?

Jessica Peng, left, and Lauren Sit talk about proposed college admissions guidelines affecting Asian students at Lowell High School in San Francisco, Thursday, April 23, 2009. (AP)

Jessica Peng, left, and Lauren Sit talk about proposed college admissions guidelines affecting Asian students at Lowell High School in San Francisco, Thursday, April 23, 2009. (AP)

In just days now, spring college admissions letters will start to flow.  Here’s a wrinkle you may not have thought of.  A lot of Asian-Americans, with high scores and high grades, feel they’re not getting an even break.  Feel that top colleges are tapping the brakes on Asian-American admissions to hold down Asian-American enrollment.

Meaning an Asian-American kid, they say, has to clear an unfairly high bar to get in.  In the age of Tiger Mom talk and affirmative action angst, that’s a volatile charge.

This hour, On Point:  college admissions, and the Asian-American factor.

-Tom Ashbrook


Carolyn Chen, director in Asian American Studies at Northwestern University, where she is also professor of sociology. In December she wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “Asians: Too Smart for Their Own Good?

Rod Bugarin, has spent more than 15 years in admissions offices at selective schools, including Wesleyan, Brown and Columbia. In the New York Times’ Room for Debate pages, he wrote a response to Carolyn Chen’s op-ed: “Scores Aren’t the Only Qualification.”

David Hollinger, professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1992.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times (Carolyn Chen) “At the end of this month, high school seniors will submit their college applications and begin waiting to hear where they will spend the next four years of their lives. More than they might realize, the outcome will depend on race. If you are Asian, your chances of getting into the most selective colleges and universities will almost certainly be lower than if you are white.”

The New York Times (Rod Bugarin) “Asian and Asian-American students should embrace affirmative action because it allows you to present yourself as a complete person instead of reducing yourself to a test score. More important, a campus community composed only of students who have aced standardized tests cannot match the dynamic, diverse ethos that currently exists. I’m sure that many students, particularly Asian and Asian-Americans, would not find Ivy League schools as desirable if their campus communities only valued competitive, high-stakes testing where only a few are given the opportunity to succeed.”

The American Conservative “Even more surprising has been the sheer constancy of these percentages, with almost every year from 1995–2011 showing an Asian enrollment within a single point of the 16.5 percent average, despite huge fluctuations in the number of applications and the inevitable uncertainty surrounding which students will accept admission. By contrast, prior to 1993 Asian enrollment had often changed quite substantially from year to year. It is interesting to note that this exactly replicates the historical pattern observed by Karabel, in which Jewish enrollment rose very rapidly, leading to imposition of an informal quota system, after which the number of Jews fell substantially, and thereafter remained roughly constant for decades.”


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