Does Virginia Higher-Ed Discriminate against Asians?

The Students for Fair Admissions, an Arlington-based non-profit group, has made waves recently with its lawsuit charging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions process.

The lawsuit asserts that the university administers what amounts to an illegal quota system, in which roughly the same percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, whites and Asian-Americans are admitted year after year, despite fluctuations in application rates and qualification, reports the New York Times. Numerous academic studies have shown that Asian-Americans have to achieve significantly higher SAT scores than other groups to gain admission to many elite universities.

The controversy got me to thinking — do similar admissions biases exist at Virginia’s top universities? The University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary, and Virginia Tech aren’t as elite as the Ivy League schools, but they are highly regarded and they do recruit students nationally. Asian students in Virginia schools consistently out-perform other racial categories in Virginia high schools. Are they fairly represented or under-represented in Virginia’s top colleges?

That’s hard to say for sure. I can’t find any data online providing average SAT scores broken down by race for any of the three universities. (I conjecture that such data is suppressed precisely to avoid the kinds of accusations made by Students for Fair Admissions.)

But the institutions do provide a breakdown of enrollment by race and ethnicity. At the top of the post, you can view the 2016 enrollment numbers for Asian and Pacific-American students. The percentages at each institution are higher than the percentage of the Asian population in Virginia — 6.5% as of 2015 — as a whole.

But how do enrollments compare to the Asian percentage of college-bound students? According to the College Board, 5,389 college-bound students of Asian origin took the SAT exams in 2016, accounting for 9% of Virginia’s college-bound population. By that yardstick, W&M at 8.7% in-state Asian enrollment appears to have an under-represented Asian population, while UVa and Virginia Tech are comfortably above.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Asian-Americans out-perform other racial/ethnic groups academically. The average reading + math SAT score for Virginia Asian-Americans was 1,145 in 2016. That compared to 1,037 for all Virginia students. Colleges and universities consider factors other than SAT scores, of course, such as grades, student rank in high school, and extracurricular activities. All other things being equal, however, the superior SAT performance by Asians suggests that they should be represented at Virginia’s elite institutions in numbers greater than the percentage taking the SATs.

What numbers would represent a bias-free admission percentage for Asians? The data that I could find isn’t granular enough to make a firm judgment, although a scientific wild-ass guess suggests that UVa, where Asians account for 18.2% of in-state first-year students, is very receptive to Asian admissions, Virginia Tech (12.7) moderately receptive, and William & Mary (8.7%) bears a closer look.

That’s just a rough cut. It’s impossible to dig deeper without seeing the average SAT scores of Asians and other racial/ethnic groups admitted to each institution. Getting that data, I suspect, will be like prying teeth from a dragon.

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30 responses to “Does Virginia Higher-Ed Discriminate against Asians?

  1. This discussion strikes me as misapplication of statistics 101. OK, as background we know that, culturally, Asian-background families place a higher-than-average value on educational achievement. We also know it’s a relatively small portion of the population (you say 6.5% in Virginia, yet produces 8% of Virginia college-bound applicants — consistent with the higher-value-placed-on-college-achievement thesis). So W&M has less than 8%, but UVa and VT more? To me that seems most likely explained not by the school’s decisions but by the applicant’s, reflecting a combination of 1. the preponderant location of Virginia’s Asian population in Northern Virginia, 2. the more regional (Tidewater) tilt of W&M’s applicant pool and 3. the availability of more technical/engineering courses at VT and UVa (which presumes a tilt towards STEM among Asian students, which is, at least anecdotally, true). As for the conclusion “the superior SAT performance by Asians suggests that they should be represented at Virginia’s elite institutions in numbers greater than the percentage taking the SATs,” that assumes Virginia is a zero-sum education destination for all its college-bound SAT takers. But there simply aren’t that many Asian-American applicants nationwide that a high percentage choosing to attend higher-prestige “elite institutions” (like the east and west coast Ivies) outside Virginia won’t substantially reduce the size of the pool choosing Virginia schools. In fact UVa and VT manage to buck that trend by offering close-to-“elite” value at in-State prices. I think W&M would also if it were better known in northern Virginia circles.

    “What numbers would represent a bias-free admission percentage for Asians?” Indeed. Statistics can support a lot of conclusions here, depending on how they are sliced and how much context is omitted.

  2. Acbar, I’m pretty sure William and Mary draws heavily from NOVA (all three schools do). I don’t think that is it. I suspect there is self-selection going on. Schools that start to have a higher Asian population may appear more attractive to some Asians, so they choose to go there.

    • You gotta figure W&M has gotten way too pricey .. for most .. to boot…

      Interesting that NoVA folks leave NoVa for higher ed, eh?

    • Agreed. My own daughter graduated from W&M. Kids want to go where they are well received by students like them, and she had a blast visiting siblings of friends there. But that only underscores that it isn’t necessarily admissions bias, but selection/acceptance bias.

    • My, what difference two years makes!
      http ://baconsrebellion.com/do-asians-face-discrimination-at-top-virginia-universities/

  3. Geeze Acbar – you’re much too rational here guy…

    I think the opponents of Affirmative Action don’t want representative demographic percentages…they gonna say pure SAT ranking…regardless of ethnicity.. I’d bet.

    • I suspect you’re right. Never saw a good statistic that couldn’t be undermined by malicious alternatives, or a bad one buried by irrelevant puffery. The art of public relations and/or publicity-seeking lawsuits, as it were!

  4. I don’t think enrollment statistics have any relevance to the purported topic. School don’t control enrollment. Kids enroll at different schools for different reasons. Schools control admissions. The proper metric to examine is admissions.

    And the only 2 schools in the state where one could draw any valid conclusions are U.Va. and William & Mary. U.Va. has an acceptance rate of 28% and W&M has an acceptance rate of 34%.

    But VPI (73% admit rate) and all the other state schools have such high admit rates that it would be very difficult to draw any valid conclusions from admissions statistics.

    • Agreed. My own daughter graduated from W&M. Kids want to go where they are well received by students like them, and she had a blast visiting siblings of friends there. But that only underscores that it isn’t admissions bias, but selection/acceptance bias, that’s at stake here.

  5. Each individual should have a right to be treated individually irrespective of gender, race or national origin. That does not mean, however, that a test score or GPA alone should control admissions. An applicant’s background such as work history, volunteer activities, etc. can play a role.

    Back in law school, every student received a number and only the number was written on the Blue Book. The instructor had no idea whose test he/she was grading. After grading the tests, a professor was free to consider class attendance, participation, etc. in setting the final grade. But by and large, the course tests represented the lion’s share of the grades.

    Perhaps, a public college should issue numbers to applicants, then blindly rank via test scores, GPA and reputation of the applicant’s high school. After that, other factors, including writing and reasoning ability from an essay, extracurricular activities, etc. can be considered to adjust the rankings. There should be some review of the rankings by an outside panel just to keep the admissions people honest. Race can be considered only as permitted by SCOTUS or restricted by state law. And let’s not forget, affirmative action was permitted only to remedy past discrimination, which, for Virginia, means blacks and native Americans.

  6. re: ” An applicant’s background such as work history, volunteer activities, etc. can play a role.”

    does that mean that it’s up to the University to decide on characteristics they will rank for admissions?

    or do we still want the Feds to decide that – for all higher ed?

    re: ” There should be some review of the rankings by an outside panel just to keep the admissions people honest. ”

    so who decide which things the outside panel will control and who is the outside panel and how are they chosen?

    “Race can be considered only as permitted by SCOTUS or restricted by state law. And let’s not forget, affirmative action was permitted only to remedy past discrimination, which, for Virginia, means blacks and native Americans. ”

    weren’t women also discriminated against especially in sports? Title 9?

    so.. can a University establish it’s own diversity goals or not?

    is that something that should be under the control of the govt?

    • There is more to people than their test scores or GPA. But what else can be considered should be specified in writing, made public and the weighting factors described and also made public. If living more than 1000 miles from C’ville is a plus factor for UVA, it should be published and a weight assigned. If playing varsity sports is a plus, say so and also how much of a plus. Make the process as open, transparent and objective as possible.

      The outside panel is, IMO, a small group outside the admissions department. It’s purpose to check qualitatively the level of compliance with admissions policies. Internal audits are good for entities. It isn’t rocket science to pick a fair panel of administrators, instructors, students and alumni to make sure the published process is being followed. It gives credibility. If they find serious discrepancies, then the issue needs to get further review. Perhaps by the State Department of Education. All I’m suggesting is for some oversight to make sure the admissions process walks its talk.

      I certainly agree there was substantial discrimination against females when I went to college 40 plus years ago. And there still may be some discrimination at some colleges and in some programs. But generally, I think women get a fair shot at college admissions today and tend to do well in school. I believe several studies show female graduation rates higher than those for men.

      In California, for instance, voters approved a law that prohibits consideration of race in college admissions. Some states have not. If race or ethnic background is to be considered it must done so openly based on published standards (ties to go specified minorities or being of X background is worth two points out of 100) and then only to the extent allowed by law. What is unacceptable is to have a sub rosa system that, at the surface, is racially and ethnically neutral, but, in practice, gives extra, unspecified weight to being non-white.

      It’s my feeling that public colleges want to subvert rules and operate a sub rosa system in many cases. We need open and transparent government.

  7. TMT – do you expect a precise point system or just a statement of factors considered.. on a case-by-case basis?

    • I think a point system should be used. If factors other than grades and test scores are considered (and I’m not arguing they cannot be), then everyone should know the weighting they are given. 5% – 25% – 50% -75%. And the weighting should be the same for everyone.

      Procedural steps provide protections against arbitrary action that is fair to none.

  8. right – but a govt standard system imposed the same way on all of them?

    are you advocating that the govt decide the point system and require all Higher Ed to follow it?

    my point is that any kind of a point system can be used .. in a variety of ways including “flexibly”. Just requiring a point system be “used” is different than specifying a particular one that all must follow – without variance.

    which do you favor? a directed must-use one from the govt?

    you’re in favor of MORE govt regulation in general?

    • No Larry, you are trying to twist my words. I’m not advocating the federal or state government regulate admissions at public colleges any more than they do today. I’m recommending that each institution publish its admission standards and how it weights various factors. And then follow them for all students.

      No where did I argue that each college must have the same standard, but everyone should make their system known to applicants and then to the public.

      I often see you call for transparency in government and public colleges are government. Why should one agency get to have unpublished rules and standards? And I think an “internal audit” is good for credibility.

      If someone doesn’t like the standards or application of the standards, they are free to challenge them to the Department of Education (state), US DoE or court. But keep in mind that the challenger has the burden of proof that a college violated its rule or applicable law.

  9. well no.. not trying to twist.. trying to get clarity… by asking specific things.

    so if a University says we MAY use the following standards.. are you saying they cannot do that – that they MUST commit to EXACT standards and cannot vary or change them.. .. or if they can .. who decides what can and cannot be done ?

    Yes.. I DO FAVOR TRANSPARENCY – but let me be SPECIFIC

    1. – I recognize that this IS.. Government Regulation and it does have impacts… in terms of cost, administrative overhead.. and the neverending cat and mouse game between the regulators and the regulated.. we’re talking “faceless bureaucrats” here ..

    2. – This part is important – required transparency is NOT required actions and performance… nor enforcement of them… which if you pay attention here.. you’ll see those who say they want transparency – want to follow it with enforcement rules.. and consequences if the rules are not followed.

    so which are you? as long as they show their process or you want them to adhere to rules, metrics, thresholds, etc also?

    3. I DO SUPPORT GOVT – regulation.. but I DO NOT support “transparency” which is then used as a means to advocate for further rules like how many administrators can be hired or what they are paid.. or how many students have to be admitted or what the tuition must cost, etc…

    how about you?

  10. A college should, indeed, publish, commit to use, and use its standards for admission. Like any other institution, a college can change its standards on a going forward basis. When standards are changed, the college should publish the new ones, explain what changes were made and why. And the new standards should be used after their effective date. If someone has trouble with the revisions, let them challenge them as described earlier.

    And “yes,” there is a cost to requiring an entity to give due process and basic fairness to the people it deals with. But UVA is not unlike the DMV. We want people to know what they need to know and do to get a driver’s license. We expect the DMV to follow its rules so that similarly situated people are treated similarly. So shouldn’t we expect UVA, VT, GMU, JMU, Mary Washington, etc. to do the same?

    If there are limits on the number of students residing in Fairfax County are imposed by a college, shouldn’t that be made public? If a person gets extra credit because his parent(s) were born in a different country, shouldn’t that be made public? And don’t we have a right to know how much weight that gets? I remember both in college and law school, most professors told the students up front how their final grade will be determined. If class participation is considered, how much? How much do quizzes count? A mid-term? Papers? Final Exam? Can a student get extra credit? How much? How is it earned? Applicants for college should know what they need to do to apply and how their applications will be evaluated. Is that asking too much?

    I expect admissions administrators to follow whatever rules there are. I also expect there will be some type of paper trail that shows why Student A was accepted or rejected. And I expect some level of compliance audit. And if admissions person is not following the rules, say by disqualifying applicants from Loudoun County because they live in the most prosperous county in the state, I expect there would be ramifications.

    I’m not talking about how many administrators are hired or how tuition is set. I’m talking about ensuring applicants are treated fairly under an admissions system that is open and transparent.

  11. re: ” So shouldn’t we expect UVA, VT, GMU, JMU, Mary Washington, etc. to do the same?”

    well they don’t have those rules.. and I’m asking if that is what you really advocate instead of just “transparency”?

    you’re advocating new rules, right… and unlike DMV on a state-wide basis.. new rules for each Higher Ed.. with a bureaucracy to enforce it?

    so you want MORE than just Transparency , right?

    you say you’re not advocating “fairly treated”.. what is that? is it specified in the rules as to what it is and is not?

    come on guy.. ..

    • Yes, Larry, I am advocating that each public college have some rules about admissions and how they administer the process. I’m not advocating the state or the federal government set those rules. I’m advocating that each public college put down in writing how it considers applications and what weight it puts on various factors – the factors that it believes important to consider when evaluating people who want to attend the college.

      I’m not telling them what they should include or what weight they should give to it. Why do you think this is unfair? For a guy who wants transparency, I’d say you favor allowing sub rosa processes to be conducted and for colleges to be able to keep their selection process secret from the public.

      How do you think public colleges should select students from applicants? Do you think the public should be able to know how its done and whether its followed? If a college says it does not consider religion, for example, is OK if it actually does? What if a college says it doesn’t consider race, but it actually does? What if a college says it doesn’t consider family gifts to the school, but it actually does?

      It seems to me my friend that you are fine with “benevolent discrimination” by an unaccountable bureaucracy.

      And no, the rules don’t need to be the same for every college.

  12. you ARE advocating fairly treated… what is that? is it defined? If one school has a different standard.. is that still “fairly treated”?

    I think you’re opening up pandoras box here.. don’t you?

    it sounds innocuous.. ” Oh we only want transparency” … but… au contraire!

    • The goal is to ensure applicants are treated fairly. That is done by the college publishing its standards, including weighting; following those standards; and leaving an auditable path that can be checked from time to time (just as every other process in the college is checked from time to time). What is so evil about this? It’s similar to the situation if you were to argue there is no reason to test footballs prepared by the New England Patriots before a football game. It sounds to me that you are really taking the position that it’s OK to bend the rules to get a staff-desired result on admissions so long as that can occur beyond the public’s eye.

  13. I understand what you are saying but this is MORE than voluntary transparency.. would you not agree?

    I don’t think it’s “evil” .. but I do think it is top-down govt directed rules.. that does and will require people to administer.. and if you do not have uniform standards that apply to all – there is going to be inevitable claims that different schools are not as “fair” as other ones.

    your NFL example would be for each team to publish it’s football rules… and as long as they did that -they could be different? Don’t you mean that each team has to follow one set of rules established by the NFL rule-makers?

    but my big complaint here is that you said transparency and it’s more than that.. you want regulation… and “auditing” .. and I presume penalties for violations, etc..

    and that’s my suspect here in BR when folks say they want “transparency”.. what they want is to force providing the info – then using that info – go after the schools for their admission standards, administrative costs, tuition, etc.

    it’s not about transparency at all.. it’s about the govt setting down rules for the colleges to follow…

    I think it’s important to be honest about that and not claim transparency when in fact, it’s govt rules that are wanted… that’s an advocacy for regulation… from folks who claim to be “conservative”.. and are often yammering about “job-killing” regulations… and wanting a “free market”… etc.. so which is it? do you want regulation? it looks like you do.. right?

  14. TMT – you say you “only want” but others will have their “wants” and in the end – there will be a substantial govt presence dictating substantial rules about way more than just showing how they rate applicants…

    don’t you see how this plays out ?

    so you ask .. why is this “one thing I want” ..”evil”.. I don’t think it is “evil” but at the same time I see it as far more than “just some transparency” … and that’s the problem I have with it.

    Do we want the govt to “decide” what enrollment policies should be – or not – and enforce them ? Do you want the govt using this same “transparency” to then decide other issues such as the cost of tuition.. or how many asians or blacks must be admitted….by questioning each schools ranking process as to whether or not it is “fair” or not?

    what keeps all these other things that other people want – beyond you – from becoming part of the govt’s role?

    Here’s what I DO support for Transparency ONLY:

    https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/

    just the data…. no govt involvement beyond just showing the data..

    and let students compare and decide… for themselves..

    • Interesting where this discussion has gone. So, TMT accuses LG of taking the position, “it’s OK to bend the rules to get a staff-desired result on admissions so long as that can occur beyond the public’s eye.” And LG responds, “my big complaint here is that you said transparency and it’s more than that.. you want regulation.” Well, well, well. You mean, when a problem becomes visible you should actually think about mandating a fix for it, too? I daresay it’s one of the more hazard-prone slippery slopes out there for the public to start opening and tinkering with the black box that is the admissions process at any school, especially our State universities. I hope the process is transparent enough for the BOV or equivalent to gain a sense of compliance (or not) with the Board’s approved policies (or directives). But transparent enough for the GA to interfere, even micromanage? That’s “regulation” you can spare me, please.

      • “I hope the process is transparent enough for the BOV or equivalent to gain a sense of compliance (or not) with the Board’s approved policies (or directives).” Isn’t that reason enough for an internal audit from time to time?

    • Larry – the admissions process by a state college is government involvement as a matter of fact and of law. It is state action. We’ve already crossed that bridge.

      “just the data…. no govt involvement beyond just showing the data.” That is impossible with a state college.

      I am not advocating for the GA to control admissions at any college. I am advocating that each college establish admission criteria or standards and then follow them. If factors other than grades and test scores are considered (and I’m not arguing that they cannot or should not), then let the public know. But don’t pretend to be objective if the process is truly subjective. And there should be some oversight by the BoV or by some other committee and an internal audit from time to time is appropriate.

      Larry worries that if a school published its standards outsiders might object. That happens. Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County has published its standards and, guess what, has been criticized. It’s part of life.

      Why is public-funded higher education exempt from following its own standards?

      • re: ” If factors other than grades and test scores are considered (and I’m not arguing that they cannot or should not), then let the public know. But don’t pretend to be objective if the process is truly subjective. And there should be some oversight by the BoV or by some other committee and an internal audit from time to time is appropriate”

        so if they say – the “following factors are considered but there are no hard and fast strict point assignments.. it’s on a case by case basis where we weigh factors that may substitute for each other … for instance, membership in a club versus playing on a sports team… etc..

        if that’s what they write down?

        s far as TJ High School is concerned.. I’m not clear.. on what you’re saying… is this like a Governors school ? What I’m familiar with is that there are minimum standards.. and if there are more people than slots they have a lottery.. it’s not a strict ranking.. no?

        how about a link to those standards?

  15. Yes, saying you want “transparency” … so you can then use that transparency to advocate regulation… by ostensible some “group”.. that’s a problem in my view… it’s really an advocacy to question and overrule the existing administration… something that ends up the way the Dragas incident can…when you have a conflict between what the Administration is doing and what outside groups want..

    In my mind.. if that’s what folks want – you change the laws.. you don’t insert some “citizen group” into the administrative process.. that can cause mayhem…

    when you start saying things like ” fair treatment” there are a wide range of opinion as to what that is or is not.. it’s sort of like “affordable tuition”.. another ill-defined phrase that is defined as many different ways as there are people … and the University has the unenviable task of trying to find some sustainable institutional way whereas citizen groups decision process is only as durable as the composition of the group…and strong personalities in the group…e.g. Helen Dragas types…

    This is why most are “advisory”.. they can give input and feedback.. and should but they should not make decisions or be able to overrule the administration… it’s just bad policy. in my view.

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