IBTimes: ... While "Asians" -- defined broadly as people who can trace their ancestry to East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Pacific Islands -- account for only about 5 percent of the U.S. populace, they are believed to represent up to 20 percent of the enrollment at the top Ivy League schools.
However, the irony is that if the admission criteria and process in all U.S. universities were completely fair and equitable -- that is, based purely on academic qualifications -- the Asian weighting in the elite colleges would likely be significantly higher.
... Consider what happened in California -- a state with a very high Asian population of about 13 percent -- in late 1996. Voters passed Proposition 209, a referendum that essentially revoked Affirmative Action measures and deemed that entry into public colleges -- including the huge University of California (UC) system -- should be entirely race-blind.
"A direct consequence of this was that the percentage of Asian-Americans at universities like Berkeley, UC-Irvine, and UCLA immediately skyrocketed," said Stephen D.H. Hsu, a professor of physics at the University of Oregon in Eugene. "At those institutions, the Asian-American representation currently approaches 50 percent."
... The word "quota" is controversial and politically-charged; one must be careful when using it. However it's difficult not to conclude that some elite universities do indeed impose a quota -- officially or subconsciously -- upon Asian enrollment in order to control their numbers at some specified levels.
Consider a recent study undertaken by Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist. He calculated that in 1997 African-Americans who achieved scores of 1150 scores on two original SAT tests had the same chances of getting accepted to top private colleges as whites who scored in the 1460s and Asians who scored perfect 1600s.
Or put it another way, Asian applicants typically need to score an extra 140 or so points on their SATs to compete "equally" with white students.
Miller of Babson College also wrote that "most elite universities appear determined to keep their Asian American totals in a narrow range. Yale's class of 2013 is 15.5 percent Asian American, compared with 16.1 percent at Dartmouth, 19.1 percent at Harvard and 17.6 percent at Princeton."
However, white students are similarly victimized by admission policies at some elite schools.
Espenshade discovered that when comparing applicants with similar grades, scores, athletic qualifications, and family history for seven elite private colleges and universities: whites were three times as likely to get accepted as Asians; Hispanics were twice as likely to win admission as whites, and African-Americans were at least five times as likely to be accepted as whites.
Moreover, if all elite private universities enacted race-blind admissions, the percentage of Asian students would jump from 24 percent to 39 percent (similar to what they already are now at Caltech and Berkeley, two elite institutions with race-blind admissions; the former due to a belief in meritocracy, the latter due to Proposition 209).
What Asian-Americans are enduring now is reminiscent of the travails of American Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, when colleges like Harvard and Yale imposed quotas to limit their numbers at these elite institutions. And like many of those Jews from seven or eight decades ago, numerous Asian-American students today come from poor, humble immigrant households.
To head off some of the usual comments, yes, it makes sense (in terms of narrow institutional interests) for the top schools to impose a soft quota on Asians. No use spooking older alumni donors with an off-putting student body composition, or diluting the brand so carefully developed over the years. I predict most of the elites will ease into a higher Asian representation over the next 20 years or so.