Petition Closed
Petitioning Education Legislators

Make college admissions more meritocratic.

It has come to our attention that race, even used as a factor in a holistic review, seems to be detrimental instead of helpful, especially with regards to Asians. Currently, race is still used as a factor in many college admissions decisions, with students of some ethnicities being held to a quantifiably higher (numerical) standard than many of their peers. As a result of this, many are being put through unnecessary stress in order to get into their dream schools.

Letter to
Education Legislators
It has come to our attention that race, even used as a factor in a holistic review, seems to be detrimental instead of helpful, especially with regards to Asians. Currently, race is still used as a factor in many college admissions decisions, with students of some ethnicities being held to a quantifiably higher (numerical) standard than many of their peers. As a result of this, many are being put through unnecessary stress in order to get into their dream schools.

Unfortunately, many believe that we put ourselves through this willingly and that we should achieve less academically in order to alleviate our ever-growing burden. However, they do not realize that many Asians strive for these statistics not just for the scores, but also due to an inherent need to always better themselves. As Professor Amy Chua1 puts it, she expects her children to achieve perfect scores because she knows that they are capable of that and wants them to develop the ever-present motivation to do the best they can. Perfect scores wouldn’t exist if people weren’t capable of achieving them. Why shouldn’t parents have faith that their children can shine academically? If parents always tell their children that falling short of their goal is okay because they’ll do better next time, children will be instilled with the mindset that goals do not need to be achieved and will digress instead of progress. Academic scores demonstrate a person’s grasp of knowledge, and it is exactly this academic prowess that moves America to the frontiers of every field.

Such is the situation that Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission, has labeled the group containing Asian Americans “the New Jews”, in reference to the discrimination that Jewish students once faced in the admissions process. Unsurprisingly, most universities adamantly deny that they have any sort of discrimination against Asians in the admission process, let alone an actual “Asian quota.” However, a simple glance at admissions data reveals a trend that suggests otherwise. Take Harvard, for example: It has always had a significant Asian-American enrollment, generally around 5% in the early 1980s. But in the following decade, the size of America’s Asian middle class exploded, leading to a sharp rise in applications and admissions, with Asians making up over 10% of undergraduates in the late 1980s and crossing the 20% line by 19932. However, after that, the trend reversed, with Asian numbers stagnating or even declining for two decades. These percentages have remained almost too constant, given the continuous rise of both the Asian American population and the number of Asian Americans applying to Harvard and similar schools.

California’s Proposition 209 passed in 1996 and resulted in an amendment that prohibited the use of racial, ethnic, or gender discrimination in public institutions. Although strongly opposed by pro-affirmative action advocacy groups, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld this proposition in April 2012. As such, prestigious California public schools remain a good counterpoint to the Ivies in that they demonstrate what admissions percentages would be in a “truer” meritocracy. The UC system cannot take race into consideration at all, and the results are startling. At UC Berkeley, a school comparable to the Ivies and other top-notch colleges, about 40% of all admitted students are Asians3. This is more than double the Asian population of many private universities unbound by Proposition 209, even though the percentage of Asian applicants to these schools is about the same. Caltech is an exception to the rule that governs almost every other prestigious private school - it uses a self-labeled meritocratic formula in admissions. It is widely regarded as the smaller twin of the well-known Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Again, percentages tell the story. MIT has an undergraduate student body that is 24.78% Asian4. Caltech, which is as academically rigorous as MIT, has an undergraduate student body that is closer to 35% Asian, and mirrors the Asian percentage of top UC schools. Its meritocratic admissions formula likely explains much of the difference in these percentages. Consequently, ethnic enrollment levels which widely diverge from academic performance data or application rates and which remain remarkably static over time provide obvious circumstantial evidence for at least a de facto ethnic quota system.

We believe that a more merit-based college application system would be more equal and beneficial to our country as a whole. It would support the Constitution’s argument that the US is a completely fair and equal country to live in - that “all men are created equal.” Unfortunately, the US does not have a great track record when it comes to its treatment of Asian people--the various Asian ethnicities were the first to be legally discriminated and restricted by the US government through immigration quotas. We, as a country, need to realize that a significant portion of the Asian immigrant population combines very low socioeconomic status with extremely competitive academic performance and educational focus, so it seems likely that this small group would capture a hugely disproportionate share of all admissions spots influenced by these modifying factors, which may or may not be fully realized by advocates of this approach. Our humble request, therefore, is that you consider reforms of the college admissions process at any level, whether it be via a proposition similar to California’s Prop 209m or via farther-reaching legislative reform.