Does the Ivy League Discriminate Against Asian American Applicants?

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    Does the Ivy League Discriminate Against Asian American Applicants?

    All three of Naomi Hill’s ’17 older siblings attended Ivy League schools. Hoping to follow her siblings’ path, Hill — then a freshman in high school — sat down with her counselor to chart her own path to college. But before she could get her feet off the ground, her counselor warned, “because you’re Asian, you will be compared against people with GPAs and test scores that are this much higher.”

    Hill, who was adopted and raised in a white, Jewish household, questioned the ‘Asian’ grouping.

    “I didn’t feel that it was fair for me to be put into that vast group,” Hill said.

    The same sense that Hill’s counselor had about Ivy League admissions — that Asian applicants must perform better than non-Asians to achieve parity — underlies the newest tide of legal challenges to the use of race in admission, a tide that now is rolling toward Ithaca’s shores.

    In late August, a group called the Asian American Coalition for Education filed a complaint against Cornell and Columbia with the Department of Education, alleging the two universities engaged in “systematic illegal discrimination against Asian American students.” The AACE filed a similar complaint three months earlier against Brown, Dartmouth and Yale, again alleging discriminatory admission practices against Asian applicants.

    Hill said that her counselor, other Asian parents and Asian students at her high school shared the assumption that Asian applicants must meet a higher standard of assessment in admissions.

    “I was told that, because of my race, my SAT score — my math score in particular — was not high enough to compete with other Asians and that I might not get into an Ivy or a top school because of it,” Hill said. “I had one friend whose mother signed her up for every extracurricular that either I or my other Asian friends were in, just so her daughter would be on par with the other Asians from her high school.”

    The AACE report provides some evidence to support this view, citing a book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, that documents admission disparities by race at four unnamed elite private schools and three elite public schools. The researchers found that, between similarly situated Asian and white applicants, an Asian applicant is 67 percent less likely than a white applicant to receive an offer of admission. The researchers also found that Asian applicants must score considerably higher on standardized tests to reach a likelihood of admission comparable to that of non-Asian applicants.

    Prof. Richard Sander, law, UCLA and Medha Uppala conducted a similar study with data from three unnamed Ivy League schools. Sander and Uppala concluded, “No other racial or ethnic group at these schools is as underrepresented relative to its application numbers as are Asian Americans. Indeed, no other racial or ethnic group comes even remotely close to this level of underrepresentation.”

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