Asian-American Groups Seek Investigation Into Ivy League Admissions

The Wall Street Journal

By Douglas Belkin
May 23, 2016

Organizations seek DOE probe of Brown, Dartmouth, Yale, citing rise of qualified Asian applications but not acceptances.

A coalition of Asian-American organizations asked the Department of Education on Monday to investigate Brown University, Dartmouth College and Yale University, alleging they discriminate against Asian-American students during the admissions process.While the population of college age Asian-Americans has doubled in 20 years and the number of highly qualified Asian-American students “has increased dramatically,” the percentage accepted at most Ivy League colleges has flatlined, according to the complaint. It alleges this is because of “racial quotas and caps, maintained by racially differentiated standards for admissions that severely burden Asian-American applicants.”The schools named in the complaint all said they used a holistic approach and evaluated each applicant individually in an effort to build a diverse class.

The complaint, said a spokesman from Brown, is without merit.

The complaint is the latest in a long line against selective colleges on behalf of Asian-American applicants, but the Education Department has never found that schools are deliberately discriminating against members of that group.

The Education Department does not confirm receipt of complaints. Last year the Education Department dismissed a complaint against Harvard University, deferring to the much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the race-conscious undergraduate admission policy at the University of Texas at Austin. Oral arguments for that case were heard in December.

The complaint filed Monday by the Asian-American Coalition for Education, which consists of more than 100 organizations, makes many of the same points as the previous complaint against Harvard. It charges that the number of Asian-Americans at the three schools is capped and a special “just-for-Asians admissions standard” is in place. Admissions officers “often treat Asian-American applicants as a monolithic block rather than as individuals, and denigrate these applicants as lacking in creativity/critical thinking and leadership skills/risk taking.”

In an accompanying petition, the group said it filed this complaint because even if it hits a legal wall it will generate social and political pressure. After the Department of Education started investigating Harvard in 1988, its admission rate of Asian-Americans jumped to 16.1% in 1991 from 10.8%. After students filed a complaint against Princeton in 2006, its admission rate increased to 25.4% in 2014 from 14.7% in 2007.

In the past decade, the percentage of Asian-American undergraduates at the three schools has been in the midteens. The complaint says the percentage of college age Asian-Americans in the general population is less than half of that.

Support among Asian-Americans isn’t monolithic. A group calling itself Asian Americans Advancing Justice issued a statement on Monday saying it fully supports affirmative action in higher education.

The complaint against Harvard last year cited third-party academic research on the SAT exam showing that Asian-Americans have to score on average about 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanic students and 450 points higher than African-American students to equal their chances of gaining admission to Harvard. The exam is scored on a 2400-point scale.

The concentration of so many accomplished Asian-American students diminishes the odds of admission, said Nat Smitobol, a counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based college admissions service.

“It’s tougher for Asians to be successful because they’re competing against a pool that’s quite saturated,” said Mr. Smitobol.

He suggested some Asian-American students may benefit by not checking the box on the application acknowledging they are Asian, stressing extracurricular activities that aren’t typical for Asian-American students or applying to schools or majors that don’t attract a lot of Asian-American students.

He noted that international Chinese students are beginning to apply in greater numbers to non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs to improve their chances of acceptance.