University Admissions, Now Twice As Hard For Asian Americans

Facing a double barrier
Facing a double barrier
Betty Ng


This is the time of year when American colleges inform applicants whether they’ll be accepted or not. Admission to prestigious universities grows tougher every year. Stanford University"s acceptance rate has fallen from 22.4% in 1970 to 5.7% in 2013. It's the same for the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Yale — they all have a record low acceptance rate.

As is always the case, reports that prestigious universities "discriminate against Asian-American students" are frequent. In many places the college recruiting process is a sensitive issue. This is because education is regarded as an equalizer that can narrow the gap in both competitiveness and living standards between the rich and the poor, as well as between different ethnic groups. Any sign of bias or discriminatory selection process in university admission is bound to be linked to the very real impact on social and economical conditions, including the disparity of wealth.

What's "fair"?

In China, regardless of wealth, health or intelligence, everyone has to take a college entrance exam to get into a university. Many hold the view that this is the fairest mechanism, where decision are made based on objective scores, regardless of background or geography. This is a particularly common Asian selection method, and from China to Hong Kong to South Korea students invest in tutorials in the hopes of standing out in public exams.

Meanwhile, American universities — the elite ones in particular — assess an applicant's qualification according to various factors. Though academic performance and exam scores are still important, a student's personal qualities, family background and achievements in extracurricular activities are also taken into account. This is meant to evaluate a student's all-around performance and potential. If a disadvantaged student performs as well in all aspects as a student from a well-to-do family, he or she will gain more credit than the latter and have a higher chance of being admitted.

Therefore the concept of a "fair admission" has a very different meaning and interpretation in the U.S. and China. Some believe the Chinese system favors the wealthy, who tend to have a better learning environment. This in turn exacerbates income disparity for future generations.

Others believe it is the American way of admission that discriminates, with the victims being the wealthy, who have to redouble their efforts to prove their worth.

The purpose of higher ed

If a university is there purely to provide academic training to people with previous excellent academic results then the Chinese method is perhaps fairer. But if higher education is also to bear some responsibility for balancing social and economic opportunities, then the U.S. approach is more desirable.

As a matter of fact, both systems have a certain unfairness in their selection processes. Indeed, prestigious American universities always reserve a quota for the descendants of the rich and the powerful — those who come from families with generations of alumni, who often are major financial donors to the institution.

Ethnic minorities in America, including Asians, are all part of the U.S. university selection mechanisms. However it's disturbing that evidence shows that in relation to other ethnic groups such as African Americans or Latinos, Asian students are often treated unfairly in the admission processes of prestigious schools.

Graduation day at Harvard — Photo: Joe Hall

Asian-American students generally have higher academic outcomes and test scores. They account for 11% of the total of U.S. senior high school students but make up 60% of the "National Young Scholars.” Yet Asian-American students’ admission rate to elite universities fail to reflect this, nor does it reflect the growth of the Asian-American general population.

Some universities justify this by saying that the admissions assessment is an overall consideration of an individual — indirectly meaning that Asian Americans are under-achieving in the aspects of leadership, independence, curiosity or that they somehow won’t fit in with the college's particular ethos.

A well-rounded student

To a certain extent this interpretation may be justified. Many Asian immigrants' children perhaps inherit their parents' emphasis on academic achievements and neglect to explore their unique potential or fail to cultivate qualities of independence, spontaneity and leadership.

However, there are some problems in explaining Asian Americans' low admissions rate with this "overall assessment” defense. Celebrated American colleges usually assess each applicant's scores with a series of academic and non-academic criteria. The ones with the highest scores have the best chance of entry. Yet, as UCLA professor Richard Sander found out, in his school, African Americans and Latinos have a higher acceptance rate than the scores require for proportional admission. Along with the white population, Asian Americans are discriminated against as top universities aim to keep a balance among ethnic groups, with Asian ethic group usually makes up 14-17% of the total of students

Add to that a new factor that may make it even more difficult for Asian-American applicants. More and more affluent students directly from Asia, particularly those from China, are applying to these prestigious universities. And at the same time, because of the economic crisis and the astronomical tuition fees, a growing number of American students are applying for financial aid. As a result, American universities have been accepting more rich Asian students from abroad.

In other words, Asian-American applicants now face a double barrier to entry at U.S. universities.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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