Robert Spencer/Getty Images
There's a theory, which has led to multiple lawsuits, that top colleges maintain racial quotas to limit the number of Asians accepted.
According to research published last month in The American Conservative, there appears to be at least some form of discrimination going on.
The article by Ron Unz shows how Asian enrollment at Ivy League schools has declined or stalled during a period when the U.S. population of college-age Asians nearly doubled.
The largely constant Asian numbers at these elite colleges are particularly strange when we consider that the underlying population of Asians in America has been anything but static, instead growing at the fastest pace of any American racial group, having increased by almost 50 percent during the last decade, and more than doubling since 1993. Obviously, the relevant ratio would be to the 18–21 age cohort, but adjusting for this factor changes little: based on Census data, the college-age ratio of Asians to whites increased by 94 percent between 1994 and 2011, even while the ratio of Asians to whites at Harvard and Columbia fell over these same years.
Put another way, the percentage of college-age Asian-Americans attending Harvard peaked around 1993, and has since dropped by over 50 percent, a decline somewhat larger than the fall in Jewish enrollment which followed the imposition of secret quotas in 1925. And we have noted the parallel trends in the other Ivy League schools, which also replicates the historical pattern.
You can see for yourself in the following chart. Note how Cal Tech (named the best university in the world by the Times of London) provides a striking contrast:
Another Times article by Carolyn Chen pointed out that Asians make up anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of the student body at top public high schools like Bronx Science, where admissions are largely based on exams and grades. This is another reason to question top colleges with much lower Asian enrollment.
Harvard denies the use of a quota. Director of University Communications Jeff Neal wrote in the Times:
Harvard College welcomes talented students from all backgrounds, including Asian-Americans. Our review of every applicant's file is highly individualized and holistic, as we give serious consideration to all of the information we receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our educational environment and community. The admissions committee does not use quotas of any kind.
When we recently spoke to an ex-Dartmouth College admissions officer, he admitted that East Asians can be at a disadvantage:
"When reading recommendations you see these words—"diligent," "hardworking"—because people tend to see East Asians in a certain way. You rarely see "creative" or "strong intellectual bent," and they are less likely to be seen as "freethinking." Same with issues of character. A lot of secondary teachers find it difficult to connect culturally with Asian Americans and the type of things they end up doing, so they won't see as much talk about character. But at Dartmouth there was not much discrimination against Asian Americans, since they were considered a historical minority at the school."
While the ex-admissions officer denied the use of an explicit quota, it may be that there is an implicit quota.
Admissions officers look for applicants who stand out. Since there are so many brilliant and diligent Asians, it becomes harder for them to stand out — especially in the eyes of the often white, American admissions officer.
UPDATE: For a smart critique of Unz's conclusions, check out the rebuttal from Nurit Baytch and further discussion from Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman (and the subsequent response from Unz).
More From Business Insider