Exclusionary college admissions

The Wall Street Journal says top private U.S. university admissions discriminate by race (”Is Admissions Bar Higher for Asian at Elite Schools?”, Wall Street Journal, 11/11/06, subscription required).

Despite the statistical evidence of bias, these colleges, apparently including the Ivy League, deny the practice exists, as they did when excluding Jews in the early twentieth century. While the problem has waned in the past 15 years — the University of California confessed and went meritocratic in recent years — the SAT disparity mentioned in the WSJ article suggests the practice persists.

For our Wisconsin readers, here is a primer on Asian-American academic excellence. Lesson one: there’s nothing Asian about it. It’s simple opportunity cost: every hour spent on one thing is an hour not spent on something else.

So, to produce academic overachievers, immerse your kids in academia. Go to the library every afternoon. Read. Write. Cancel your summer vacation, and spend the money on Kumon (a respected private math tutor).

Walk into a coastal California public library on a weekday afternoon, and note most faces are Asian (including south Asia). 12% of the California population, but 60% of the library population. This adds up. Consistent effort yields results.

It should come as no surprise, then, that after years of consistent study, many of these kids are academic superstars. What else would you expect? That they’ll get into Harvard by going surfing every afternoon? Unlikely.

“Asian” is an irrelevant red herring. Anybody can do this. By a twist of cultural fate, those who actually do are mainly recent descendants of Asian immigrants. To put quotas on their Ivy League acceptance is to punish a family reverence for academia.

“Reverence” is not too strong. Imagine the family strain of such a singleminded effort. Mom driving the kids around every afternoon. Kids abandoning sports, friends, parties, all in favor of intellectual excellence.

Now imagine, after a dozen years in this academic boot camp, you get a cursory rejection from Harvard, in favor of a less qualified person, due to ethnic background. You’d be mad, wouldn’t you? What could be more contrary to American meritocracy?

Beyond unfairness, in the limit case, this may be socially destabilizing. I suspect such policies will not exist in 10 years, but in the meantime, write your congressman.

That’s the university admissions perspective. The family perspective, covered in the next post: is it actually a good idea to put your kids through 12 years of academic boot camp?

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