While Asian Americans make up 5.2 percent of the U.S. population, they make up over 20 percent of the students in 23 of the most selective U.S. colleges, according to the September 14 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. This includes only Asian American students who are citizens and does not include nonresident international Asian students.
The academic accomplishment of Asian American students is impressive. Education idealists such as Lumina are pressing schools to increase college attendance and completion from the low 40 percent of high school graduates to 60 percent. But Asian American students have already surpassed that 60 percent college completion level.
Indeed, on all measurements of K-12 academic achievement across all 50 states, children of Asian descent consistently average higher. Labeled the “model minority,” they are often left off of subgroup comparisons because their performance as a minority is significantly greater than majority white students. Their performance is sometimes labeled the “model minority myth” since there are some Asian American students who do not score high. But distribution in academic performance is a bell curve and their curve is substantially higher than for any other racial or ethnic group. It is no myth. Asian culture values education more highly than do other ethnic groups.
California has a higher percentage of Asian American students (13.9%) than most states. In July of 1995, the University of California Board of Regents voted to eliminate affirmative action in university admissions, as reported in the August 4, 1995 Chronicle of Higher Education, A18. The number of Asian American students immediately increased. Affirmative action had clearly suppressed the Asian minority.
Today, while California’s Asian American population constitutes 13.9 percent, the percentages of Asian American students enrolled at California’s top colleges are as follows:
Cal Tech 40.7 percent
U.C. Berkeley 42.7 percent
U.C. Los Angeles 33.3 percent
Cal. State Long Beach 25.0 percent
Univ. Southern CA 24.5 percent
Harvey Mudd College 23.1 percent...and so on.
Affirmative action admission policies are still used in some states to provide greater diversity among minorities on campus, an educational benefit that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court decision issued June 23, 2016 in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. That decision found that the race-conscious admissions program in use at the time by UT-Austin was lawful under the Equal Protection Clause.
The Court accepted the rationale for having a diversity of students, that included: “destruction of stereotypes,” promotion of “cross-racial understanding,” preparation of students for “an increasingly diverse workforce and society,” and cultivation of “leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.” Data also showed that race-neutral use of academic criteria could not achieve this mix of students. The court also required ongoing “strict scrutiny” to ensure “...that race plays no greater role than is necessary to meet its compelling interest.”
Two weeks ago, the Department of Justice filed a brief supporting a lawsuit stating: “Harvard has failed to carry its demanding burden to show that its use of race does not inflict unlawful racial discrimination on Asian-Americans.” Harvard University is located in Massachusetts where Asian American students make up 6.1 percent of the state population but comprise 20.3 percent of Harvard’s undergraduates. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the earlier California data that, without affirmative action, Asian American students would make up an even higher portion of Harvard’s student body.
The U.S. Supreme Court recognized the difficulty of balancing the need for campus diversity with the need for fairness in admission to highly selective universities. That Fisher vote was split, with retired Justice Kennedy being the tie-breaking vote. While the country has been focused on the approval of a new Justice based on his views of Roe v. Wade, there is good reason to believe that if this lawsuit against Harvard is appealed to the Supreme Court, we could see the end of affirmative action.
John Richard Schrock is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Emporia State University.