Asian students face diversity penalty

Playing piano or violin -- like the daughters of "tiger mother" Amy Chua -- fits the Asian stereotype, but hurts in college admissions, say counselors.

Playing piano or violin — like the daughters of “tiger mother” Amy Chua — looks “too Asian” on college applications, say counselors.

Asian-Americans have “turned against affirmative action policies” that make it harder for them to get into elite colleges, reports Frank Shyong in the Los Angeles Times. “In the San Gabriel Valley’s hyper-competitive ethnic Asian communities, arguments for diversity can sometimes fall on deaf ears.”

In a tutoring center’s workshop on college admissions in the valley, Ann Lee tells Asian-American parents about a Princeton study on how race and ethnicity affect admissions. Being black is worth 230 SAT points, according to the study. Hispanics receive a “bonus” of 185 points. Asian applicants are penalized by 50 points, says Lee. “Do Asians need higher test scores? Is it harder for Asians to get into college? The answer is yes,” Lee says.

For immigrant parents raised in Asia’s all-or-nothing test cultures, a good education is not just a measure of success — it’s a matter of survival. They see academic achievement as a moral virtue, and families organize their lives around their child’s education, moving to the best school districts and paying for tutoring and tennis lessons. An acceptance letter from a prestigious college is often the only acceptable return on an investment that stretches over decades.

Private college-prep academies counsel Asian-Americans on how to stand out. “Everyone is in orchestra and plays piano,” says Lee, founder of HS2 Academy. “Everyone plays tennis. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and write about immigrating to America. You can’t get in with these cliche applications.”

Crystal Zell, HS2’s assistant director of counseling, urges students to volunteer in poor neighborhoods and find activity other than tennis, taekwondo or chess.

“One parent asked Zell whether it would help to legally change the family name to something more Western-sounding,” reports the Times.

Some Asian-American students have filed lawsuits against colleges that rejected them, but admitted blacks and Latinos with lower grades and test scores.

Rejected Asians sue Harvard for bias

Asian-American students are suing Harvard, charging they were rejected because of affirmative action policies that discriminate against Asians.

According to a 2009 Princeton study, the average Asian American applicant needed a 1460 SAT score to be admitted, a white student with similar GPA and other qualifications needed a score of 1320, while blacks needed  1010 and Hispanics 1190.

Project on Fair Representation, which filed the suit,  also has filed suit against University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for discriminating against both whites and Asians.

“The College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations,” wrote Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel in a statement.

“Asian-American students benefit greatly from attending the racially and socio-economically diverse campuses that affirmative action helps create,” said Julie Park, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland and author of When Diversity Drops.

It reminds me of the quotas against Jews back in the day. Ivy League schools feared they’d end up with too many Jewish students if they admitted based on academic qualifications.

Is it legal? asks Slate? “In remanding the case of Fisher v. University of Texas to a lower court in 2013, SCOTUS held that schools have a responsibility to attempt race-neutral means of achieving diversity (giving a leg up to low-income applicants, say) before turning to race-conscious means, and it’s not clear whether the Court would agree that Harvard and UNC have met that test.”

Why did Kyle get rejected?

When his family was homeless, Kyle studied in the school library and earned straight A’s. He competed in cross country, despite his epilepsy. As a National Honor Society member, he volunteered in the community. His “excellent grades” were backed by high test scores. Why did so many colleges reject Kyle?, asks Michele Kerr on Hypersensitive.

All the Ivy League schools said no, except Brown. Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and UC San Diego rejected him. In addition to Brown, he was accepted at UCLA, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and UC Santa Barbara.

Kyle will go to Brown on a full scholarship. But Kerr is “shocked and more than a little angry that so many top-ranked schools rejected him.”

You’re thinking I’m overly optimistic, aren’t you? How to put this delicately: a kid can’t just be homeless and poor with high scores and good grades. He needs to be a great athlete in a desired sport, or a fantastic musician. On pure academics, “poor” doesn’t cut it unless the kid is black or Hispanic.

But Kyle is black.

Elite schools say they’re eager to admit disadvantaged minority students who are academically prepared. Kerr wonders if they’re saving their “black” admissions for athletes in major sports, the children of black alumni or students from networked, media-savvy charter schools.

Kyle is “a great kid – funny, quirky, chatty, upbeat,” she writes. “His success is due most of all to his development of great natural abilities and his determination in the face of considerable adversity — and no doubt, his positively chirpy good-spirited view of life.”

Court upholds ban on racial preferences

States can ban racial preferences in university admissions ruled the U.S. Supreme Court today on a 6-2 vote. The case involves a Michigan initiative passed by voters.

“This case is not about how the debate (over racial preferences) should be resolved,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in announcing the ruling. But to stop Michigan voters from making their own decision on affirmative action would be “an unprecedented restriction on a fundamental right held by all in common.”

Seven other states – California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire – have similar bans, notes USA Today.

When the University of Texas’ affirmative action plan was thrown out in court, the state came up with a race-neutral alternative. The Texas Ten Percent Plan (TTP) guarantees admission to state universities — including University of Texas in Austin and Texas A&M — to the top students in each high school class. Florida and California adopted similar guarantees.

The Ten Percent Plan encourages top students to enroll in state universities, but doesn’t increase university attendance, according to a study in Education Next.  “The program appears to have simply shifted students from selective private or out-of-state colleges to the two flagship universities. That may have lowered educational costs for eligible students, but it did not enhance the quality of their higher education opportunities.”

Asians fight return of college preferences

“A legislative push to permit California’s public universities to once again consider race and ethnicity in admissions appears to be on life support after an intense backlash from Asian-American parents,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.  Because many Asian-Americans earn high grades and test scores, they’re “over-represented” at University of California campuses.

A planned referendum sailed through the state Senate in January without fanfare on a party-line vote, but three Asian-American Democrats who initially backed the measure are now calling for it to be “tabled” before the state Assembly has a chance to vote on it — a highly unusual move. And it seems unlikely to get the two-thirds majority in the Assembly without the support of the five Asian-Americans in the lower house.

UC reaches out to students from low-income, non-college-educated families. That helps Latinos, blacks — and students from Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant families.

Poor high school’s impact lasts

Top students at low-performing high schools earn low grades in collegeconcludes a new study. The University of Texas at Austin guarantees admission to the top 10 percent of students at every high school in the state as an alternative to race-based affirmative action.

. . .  the researchers did modeling on the performance of a female Hispanic student who enrolled at UT at the age of 18, has a mother with a high school diploma, and family income between $20,000 and $40,000. Such a student, graduating from a high-performing high school, would be predicted to earn a 3.21 grade-point average at UT. Such a student from a low-performing high school would be predicted to earn a 2.30 at UT.

That’s a huge difference. And students don’t catch up in sophomore or junior year, the study found.

Starting this fall, UT will accept students in the top 7 percent of their high school class.

The University of California guarantees admission to students in the top 4 percent of their high school class, if they’ve passed the required college-prep courses with a C or better.


‘Holistic’ admissions at Berkeley

When California voters barred the use of racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, the University of California vowed to use a “holistic” process that considers socioeconomic disadvantages, leadership and motivation, as well as grades and test scores. As a reader of applications for Berkeley’s engineering department, Ruth Starkman saw the holistic process at work, she writes in the New York Times.

A highly qualified student, with a 3.95 unweighted grade point average and 2300 on the SAT, was not among the top-ranked engineering applicants to the University of California, Berkeley. He had perfect 800s on his subject tests in math and chemistry, a score of 5 on five Advanced Placement exams, musical talent and, in one of two personal statements, had written a loving tribute to his parents, who had emigrated from India.

The applicant was a 2 on a 1-to-5 scale (1 being highest) because he didn’t have enough extracurricular activities and engineering awards, she learned in training.

Now consider a second engineering applicant, a Mexican-American student with a moving, well-written essay but a 3.4 G.P.A. and SATs below 1800. His school offered no A.P. He competed in track when not at his after-school job, working the fields with his parents. His score? 2.5.

Readers were told to told to ignore minority background, but could consider whether a student came from a non-English-speaking household if it was a “stressor” that justified a special read looking for socioeconomic disadvantages.

To better understand stressors, I was trained to look for the “helpful” personal statement that elevates a candidate. Here I encountered through-the-looking-glass moments: an inspiring account of achievements may be less “helpful” than a report of the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors.

Readers are supposed to look for “leadership,” a major criterion in the holistic process. That usually meant extracurricular activities. (Volunteer trips to exotic places were taken as a sign of  “privilege.”)

In my application pile, many students from immigrant households had excellent grades and test scores but few activities. I commented in my notes: “Good student, but not many interests or activities? Why? Busy working parents? And/or not able to afford, or get to, activities?”

Many essays “lucidly expressed a sense of self and character,” Starkman writes.  Others “betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable.”

She read innumerable hard-luck stories, not all of them credible. Kids figure out what sells.

Favoring “stressors” over academic success has costs:  92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. In the UC system, 17 percent of Hispanic and black students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

It’s ironic that colleges claim to be looking for  “leadership” potential, writes Walt K in the comments.

. . . their entire process is designed to select compliant followers: people who have bought into the whole game, and are happy to play along.

People who do well on tests. People who do well in class. People who follow instructions. People who join clubs. People who follow the conventional wisdom People who teachers like. People who do what they are told. People who do all the ‘right’ things.

. . .  leaders are the ones who say, ‘To heck with this, I’m picking myself.’ Which may often mean bailing out on college to actually DO something instead of sucking up.

I think Walt K has a point.

Many elite colleges enroll few low- and moderate-income students, reports the New York Times. Berkeley is much higher than the average, due affirmative action for disadvantaged students.

Race-based admissions faces ‘strict scrutiny’

The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t reject the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions plan outright, as many had expected. However, justices voted 7 to 1 to send the Fisher ase back to a lower court for “strict scrutiny” of whether the plan is justified.

“A university must make a showing that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve the only interest that this Court has approved in this context: the benefits of a student body diversity that ‘encompasses a . . . broad array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element,’ ” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

In 2003, a divided court in Grutter v. Bollinger approved a limited use of race by the University of Michigan Law School to achieve a “critical mass” of diversity, notes the Washington Post.

The University of Texas at Austin . . . admits about 75 percent of its freshmen based on their graduation rankings from Texas high schools. Since many of the state’s high schools are dominated by one race or ethnicity, this has created a diverse applicant pool.

For the remaining slots, it uses a “holistic” evaluation of applicants that includes race as one of many factors.

The case is named for Abigail Fisher, a white student who didn’t qualify for automatic admission. She argued “the attempts to boost the number of African American and Hispanic students cost her a spot in the freshman class of 2008.” She went instead to Louisiana State University (no doubt paying higher out-of-state tuition) and earned a bachelor’s degree.

Strict scrutiny just got a lot stricter, writes Kirk Kolbo, who argued against UM’s race-conscious affirmative action plan in Grutter, on Powerline.

. . . the Court’s opinion in Fisher goes into painstaking detail (more than five pages are devoted to the issue) about how the Fifth Circuit should go about applying strict scrutiny after the remand.

. . . Strict scrutiny requires both a “compelling interest” justifying the use of race as a factor in decision-making, and means of implementing that interest that are “narrowly tailored” to achieving it.

. . .  Fisher states that a university “receives no deference” on the question of whether the “means chosen . . . to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal.”

. . . Perhaps the strongest point in Fisher is the statement that “[t]he reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” (emphasis added).

It will be much harder for racial preferences to pass muster, Kolbo predicts.

76% oppose use of race in college admissions

Seventy-six percent of adults oppose “allowing universities to consider applicants’ race as a factor in deciding which students to admit,” according to a Washington Post/ABC poll.

That includes 79 percent of whites, 78 percent of blacks and 68 percent of Hispanics. Sixty-four percent of liberal Democrats oppose race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

Universities don’t seek socioeconomic diversity

Focused on race-based affirmative action, many public universities aren’t eager to recruit low-income students, reports the New York Times.

“It’s expensive,” said Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “You have to go out and identify them, recruit them and get them to apply, and then it’s really expensive once they enroll because they need more financial aid.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will rule soon on race-based admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. Many think affirmative action linked to race and ethnicity will be struck down.

Polls show that while most Americans oppose racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, they also think colleges should give extra help to the poor.

Some states have already banned affirmative action, including California, Florida, Michigan and Washington, and in each of them, the selective public universities stepped up their efforts to recruit disadvantaged students, hoping to enroll more black, Hispanic and American Indian students in the process.

Even in states that have rejected racial preferences, flagship universities “vary widely in how hard they work to identify high-achieving, disadvantaged students and prepare them for college, how heavily they weight disadvantage in admissions, and how generous they are with financial aid,” reports the Times.

More than 40 percent of University of California students qualify for Pell Grants, which go to low- and moderate-income students. That includes 34 percent at Berkeley and 36 percent at UCLA.

At the University of Michigan, also highly selective and banned from considering race, only 16 percent of undergraduates received Pell Grants.

The private sector is less committed to affirmative action in hiring, adds the Times in another story.

“Tens of thousands of qualified low-income students, 30 percent of them racial minorities” don’t apply to elite colleges, according to research by Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby and Harvard’s Christopher Avery.  Colleges should recruit low-income high achievers, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in a Bloomberg commentary.

In a follow-up study, Hoxby and a colleague sent college information packets to a random selection of low-income high-achievers. Students who got the information were 80 percent more likely to apply to and gain admission to a selective college than similar students who didn’t get the packet. The mailings cost $6 per student.