An interesting article appeared recently in The Economist titled The model minority is losing patience. The minority referred to is that of Asian-Americans. Considerable background and historical data are provided in the article, but here we will focus on Asian-Americans and higher education.
One indisputable fact about this group is that they perform rather well academically.
“….49% of Asian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28% of the general population. Whereas Asian-Americans make up 5.6% of the population of the United States, according to the complaint to the Department of Education they make up more than 30% of the recent American maths and physics Olympiad teams and Presidential Scholars, and 25-30% of National Merit Scholarships. Among those offered admission in 2013 to New York’s most selective public high schools, Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science, 75% and 60% respectively were Asian. The Asian population of New York City is 13%.”
Not surprisingly, Asian-Americans expect their hard work to be rewarded with admission to elite universities. Consider the experience of one young over-achiever.
“Michael Wang, a young Californian, came second in his class of 1,002 students; his ACT score was 36, the maximum possible; he sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration; he got third place in a national piano contest; he was in the top 150 of a national maths competition; he was in several national debating-competition finals. But when it came to his university application he faced a serious disappointment for the first time in his glittering career. He was rejected by six of the seven Ivy League colleges to which he applied.”
Wang was angry after noting that less-accomplished students were being accepted while he was being rejected. He and others who found themselves facing the same situation filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the Department of Education. Could racial discrimination be involved? The Economist provided this interesting chart.
Note that Caltech (California Institute of Technology), a private school that is extremely selective in admissions, has an undergraduate population that recognizes the academic achievements of Asian-Americans and has allowed the number accepted to increase in proportion to the population of possible applicants. California’s public universities are not allowed to consider race in selecting for college admission, but they are allowed to consider economic hardship. The University of California at Berkeley is the flagship for the UC system. It also has an Asian-American enrollment fraction similar to Caltech’s at 41%.
Compare the California schools with the Ivy League schools included in the chart. After some dispersion in Asian-American enrollment in the 1990s, the schools have settled into a near constant 15% over the last decade, while the Asian-American population has tripled. One cannot legally prove discrimination unless the perpetrator actually admits to discriminatory behavior, but it is obviously occurring when one looks at that chart. In fact, it would seem that the schools are also acting in collusion in their discriminatory practices.
The problem is that elite private universities might advertise themselves as non-profit institutions, but they are as aggressive in enhancing revenue as any other business. Their business model is based on graduating students who will make a lot of money and contribute some fraction of it back to the university (traditionally, wealthy whites). Academic achievement is of less importance than being the child of wealthy parents, particularly wealthy alumni. In other words, wealthy white people must receive their percentage of the slots. After one adds in children of alumni, athletes, and affirmative action candidates, the slots for those who only have high achievement to offer must be limited.
The Economist recognizes all these factors, but chooses to highlight affirmative action as the issue that Asian-Americans must contend with.
“Racial prejudice of the sort that Jews faced may or may not be part of the problem, but affirmative action certainly is. Top universities tend to admit blacks and Hispanics with lower scores because of their history of disadvantage….Since the Ivies will not stop giving places to the privileged, because their finances depend on the generosity of the rich, the argument homes in on affirmative action.”
Fortunately, most people do not buy this con because Asian-Americans can remember the not too distant past when they were racially discriminated against in this country.
“But the Asian-American community is unwilling on the whole to oppose affirmative action. It tends to vote Democratic, and many of its members recall the years when they were a despised, not a model, minority. So those who dislike the way the system works tend to argue for it to be adjusted, not abolished; and some say that Asians should actually support it.”
The basic problem for the Asian-Americans, and for the nation as a whole, is that we have allowed a few revenue-maximizing corporations to claim they provide the standard for excellence in education. Such a situation inevitably breeds economic inequality—inequality that actually seems boundless.
The Economist provides an example of how this works in practice in the legal field.
“Recruiters at the top firms typically throw out applications from all but the top universities and scan the remainder for their extracurriculars, says Lauren Rivera of Northwestern University. ‘They’re particularly interested in sports, such as lacrosse, squash and [rowing] crew’.”
These are the sports of rich white people, not those of minorities and the economically disadvantaged.
We would be better off if we could have gone back to the beginning and ruled that all college education must be publically provided—and that it must be affordable.