Friday, June 17, 2005

Asian-Americans hurt by affirmative action

From Gene Expression, results of a new Princeton study showing that if affirmative action were eliminated at elite universities, 80% of the previously reserved slots would go to Asian Americans. I predict little or no protest from model-minority Asians over this. The paper can be found here, but you need a subscription to Social Science Quarterly to read it.

The researchers' results seem to be in agreement with what happened at Berkeley after UC was forced to drop affirmative action - the main effect was a drop in the numbers of black and hispanic students, a big increase in the number of Asians and little effect on the white population.

Why wouldn't white and Asian-American applicants benefit equally if admission were purely by merit? It sounds suspiciously like the quota system imposed on Jews early in the 20th century. Previous research by these authors showed that being Asian was statistically equivalent to a penalty of 50 points on SAT score. (Probably due to preference awarded to "legacies", who are predominantly white.)

Disregarding race in college admissions would cause sharp drops in the number of black and Hispanic students at elite institutions, according to a new study by two researchers at Princeton University. The study, described in an article published in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, also found that eliminating affirmative action would significantly raise the number of Asian-American students, while having little effect on white students.

If affirmative action were eliminated, the acceptance rates for black applicants would fall to 12.2 percent from 33.7 percent, while the acceptance rates for Hispanic applicants would drop to 12.9 percent from 26.8 percent, according to the study. Asian-American students would fill nearly 80 percent of the spaces not taken by black and Hispanic students, the researchers found, while the acceptance rate for white students would increase by less than 1 percent.

The researchers who conducted the study -- Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology, and Chang Y. Chung, a statistical programmer at Princeton's Office of Population Research -- looked at the race, sex, SAT scores, and legacy status, among other characteristics, of more than 124,000 applicants to elite colleges.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Has there been any study on what the effect of removing legacies would do?

steve said...

I suspect one of the reasons Asians would benefit the most from removal of preferences is that they are underrepresented among two of the preference categories at elite schools: legacies and athletes. The legacy category benefits white applicants, and the athlete category probably benefits whites and blacks more than Asians.

From the paper (via www.gnxp.com):
African-American applicants receive the equivalent of 230 extra SAT points (on a 1600-point scale), and being Hispanic is worth an additional 185 SAT points. Other things equal, recruited athletes gain an admission bonus worth 200 points, while the preference for legacy candidates is worth 160 points. Asian-American applicants face a loss equivalent to 50 SAT points.

Anonymous said...

Well, legacies do serve an important purpose at elite universities: namely, filling out the bottom of the bell curve. If you didn't have legacies at Harvard, you'd always have some high school valedictorian graduating the bottom of their class, and that can't be good for their self esteem.

steve said...

High school valedictorians flunking out? That's what happens at Caltech :-)

Actually, the justification for legacy admits is to grow the endowment. I can't really criticize the need for that, in today's environment.

david bennett said...

This is probably one of the good arguments for using poverty or other indications of background as a criteria. In point of fact a number of Asian groups (Hmong are an example) are having a difficult time. They don't benefit from equal opportunity and in fact suffer because they compete for the limited slots with an elite. Even within ethnic groups some do better than others, the first wave of Viet refugees tended to be highly educated, the boat people less so, those who setlled in San Jose did better than those in some of the (often ganfg filled) cities of S. California.

The problem with race as a criteria is that it effectively acts to divide the lower classes. I've known a number of families and even communities of whites who exhibited many of the problems associated with minorities. Racial preferences have meant the kids from these families are dealing with a much tougher road because they are classed with the most successful group: whites. Many forced advances for minorities have come from these working class enclaves. I do believe police forces should roughly balance the structure of the community, but we don't see the same distribution in elite law firms.

Combined with this has been at times an open contempt towards white working classes. I do not know the merits of Paula Jones claims, but the remark from a white house official that youu never know what will turn up when you wave around a hundred dollar bill in a trailer park should have elicited outrage not amusement from liberals.

I see a system right now which works similar to the power structure in the old south. Some of the elite pacified the "white trash" and told them their enemies were the N******s
while another "befriended" the blacks and "defended" them against the crackers.

That these implementations are not necessarily conscious does not mean that many forces and individuals within our system continue them. Societies can be cybernetic in form, almost organisms, people carry out functions which mantain homeostatsis and the status quo.

Means based testing or even better (in a dream world) a new system where at least one person actually has some sense of an individual and helps advocate and explain them to various institutions, gives them anm identity in the bureaucracy is I think the way to go.

steve said...

You are right that lumping all Asian ethnicities together is very crude. The spread in, e.g., SAT scores for this artificial Asian category is, I think, larger than for the other categories - there is evidence of a bimodal distribution with both under- and over-performing components.

david bennett said...

Perhaps another related issue is the role of "elite" universities. I do fear that we are erecting or expanding a caste system which in an ossifying society can be dangerous.

If I remember the statistics correctly, traditionally university alone has been a poor predicting factor for success. And certainly the realities are quite varied, for example a great niversity can be inferior in other elements. For example I might be out of date, but sometime ago San Jose State was a far better choice for a fine arts education than Stanford, if you wanted to produce actual art.

In this context and I'm afraid a number of others (the MBA cult is an example) the advantage of the elite school would be that it gave you connections to rich and well connected people who essentially finance and control lucrative venues. Indeed I think "fine art" provides an example of the dangers of elitism because IMO for decades it has indulged sloppiness, laziness, rehashed concepts from the early 20th century with more verbalization than all the Surrealist manifestos put together and has essentially withdrawn as an active player in the minds of people. It's become a playground for the rich and allows their kids to be employed in something creative.

This does not mean many of the "great schools" don't have much to offer. But it seems parents and counselors are not aware of such common sense ploys as getting the first 4 years at a more "normal" school, then taking a garduate degree (where the advanatages start) at an elite school. There seems to be a near insanity in the competition for many slots and to me the tendency is disturbingly. These schools are supposed to guarantee success.

The process seems to be self feeding. A huge number of jobs that once required only a high school degree now require a college degree, a group of individuals protect themselves. And "education inflation" has worked with this so that nowadays a college degree is the assurance of basic literacy that high school education once was.

At a minimum I feel that we should have a dual degree system so that holders of a certain HS degree are known to have attained basic competence.

Personally I think developing opportunities and standards at this level are more important for the poor than access to elite schools. To the extent that society has been defined by ethnic groups (and while this definition is much less than it was, certainly people assimilate more quickly than they did a century ag) much of the economic success of varying groups has been by becoming major players in various niches.

So to sort of free form on the general theme of Malcolm X the goal is not necessarily to get them into existing elites (though certainly these should be more open than they have historically) but to give them the tools to start building their own forms, the extensions and competition to the existing structures.

This requires solid education near the bottom and for people who don't necessarily have 6 or 7 years to devote to schooling after high school. One thing that disturbs me is vocational education. In California we have a number of programs in our community colleges. However where private schools typically take 6 concentrated months
to teach these skills the community colleges often extend them over 2 years. And the quality is often mediocre with no fanatic movement to ensure these kids get quality either in the public or private schools often payed for with large government loans.

Of course we as a society pay with the basic quality of craftmanship.

Similarly to me one of the more liberating thing for students who are less advantaged would be to rapidly get all the research papers sponsored by the government or which are otherwise public online. Take the existing funding for journals and organize them so that everyone has access, start mechanisms for creating new hournals more rapidly etc. Imperfectly, but now.

The simple fact of the matter is that for a student in a fairly advanced and complex field the elite universities become the only choice becauuse they are the only ones who can afford the cost and storage space of the journals necessary for a certain level of research and study.

Restricting access to this material by whatever means means that smaller schools, regional schools and yes the third world are crippled. The situation benefits the elite.

One will notice that unlike "equal opportunity" this policy has not been seriously implemented. Yes there are bits and pieces. But a decade ago a basic technology came into place which would have allowed mass implementation which matched paper in organizational sophistication and can be extended into sophisticated maps.

Yet many scholarly papers are still constructed in PDF and in HTML Engelbart (yeah the guy who invented the mouse and held that fancy demo in 1968) is the only one who thought of a system to automatically "anchor" paragraphs so you can get some medium grain linking to long documents, so you can do things like point at quotes.

While I think in many ways Doug Engelbart over does it and also fails to grasp the strenghts of many technologies, I have slowly come to agree with this claim that his "paradignm" (which I'm not fully sure he understands well himself) is resisted by society and institutions. Including many who claim to favor it.

And of course it is a threat. It could disrupt and challenge existing enclaves of power and greatly expand the centers of opportunity.

While I do with some reservations support "equal opportunity" and opening up positions of status quo power, I think that the tendency like most leftism is currently conservative and reactionary. The first priority should be creating the tools for allowing people to create their own structures of power, wealth and communication.

It may be middle aged nostalgia for my youth, but I prefer the concept of revolution.

dave s said...

Steve's post on inhomogeneity of 'asian' populations in US is interesting - and there's no good reason that hunter-gatherer- small-farmers like the Hmong would have been rewarded historically for the same skills as benefited people in civil-service examination based China.

Thinking about removing preferences, though, is unnerving - whether you buy heritability or cultural explanations, every school district lugubriates about 'the gap' in test scores and makes a press release about its plan to close it every year, and the gap keeps appearing again next year. Whatever you think the origin of the gap is, it seems to be very durable after people start kindergarten.

Edison said invention is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration - I think Edison was a very smart man, and had no control whatsoever of how smart he was. He also worked very hard, had control over that, and so that was what he noticed, that's why he said that. Folks who work really hard can 'punch above their weight' consistently. But I think you don't get an Edison out of someone who doesn't have a certain amount of horsepower to start with. So what do you do? Maybe you decide you have to have a certain fraction of your (doctors, police sergeants, teachers) look like the populations they serve, and put your thumb on the scale for admissions, etc., but you try not to do that for, say, water-treatment-plant engineers or physicists.

I really don't like group rights ideas, but I think you just don't have that many people - for whatever reason, early childhood education faulty or genetics or what - who can compete their way in to some of the positions you may want them in, if the playing field is kept level.

Here are some numbers for the back of your envelope: USA population 296 million. .82 white, .04 Asian, .01 Jewish, .13 black. let's say a seventieth of the population is avail to start a career, or get admitted to school, every year. that would be 3.5 million white, 170,000 Asian, 43,000 Jewish, 550,000 black. Now, the per cent of a normally distributed set of observations which exceeds standard deviations is: +1, 16%. +1.3, 11%, +1.6, 5%, +2, 2+, +2.3, 1%. Let's say a law school wants to admit only students with IQs over 120: what is its potential target population by group? Whites, normally distributed around 100, 120 is +1.3, 11% of 3.5 million is 380000. Asians, normally distributed around 105, 120 is +1, 16% of 170000 is 28000. Jewish, 7000. Blacks, normally distributed around 85, 120 is + 2.3, 1% of 550,000 is 5500. So, barring some kind of thumb on the scale, that's your level-playing-field result. And it doesn't add up to social peace.

I'd be a lot happier to put a thumb on the scale for people whose parents are uneducated or poor (that will do nice things for some Hmong and some whites from the hollows of Appalachia as well as blacks from urban ghettoes) than to make race the major criterion and send benefits heavily to favored-minority kids whose parents were themselves relatively fortunate, college- educated even though minority.

dave s said...

Steve's post on inhomogeneity of 'asian' populations in US is interesting - and there's no good reason that hunter-gatherer- small-farmers like the Hmong would have been rewarded historically for the same skills as benefited people in civil-service examination based China.

Thinking about removing preferences, though, is unnerving - whether you buy heritability or cultural explanations, every school district lugubriates about 'the gap' in test scores and makes a press release about its plan to close it every year, and the gap keeps appearing again next year. Whatever you think the origin of the gap is, it seems to be very durable after people start kindergarten.

Edison said invention is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration - I think Edison was a very smart man, and had no control whatsoever of how smart he was. He also worked very hard, had control over that, and so that was what he noticed, that's why he said that. Folks who work really hard can 'punch above their weight' consistently. But I think you don't get an Edison out of someone who doesn't have a certain amount of horsepower to start with. So what do you do? Maybe you decide you have to have a certain fraction of your (doctors, police sergeants, teachers) look like the populations they serve, and put your thumb on the scale for admissions, etc., but you try not to do that for, say, water-treatment-plant engineers or physicists.

I really don't like group rights ideas, but I think you just don't have that many people - for whatever reason, early childhood education faulty or genetics or what - who can compete their way in to some of the positions you may want them in, if the playing field is kept level.

Here are some numbers for the back of your envelope: USA population 296 million. .82 white, .04 Asian, .01 Jewish, .13 black. let's say a seventieth of the population is avail to start a career, or get admitted to school, every year. that would be 3.5 million white, 170,000 Asian, 43,000 Jewish, 550,000 black. Now, the per cent of a normally distributed set of observations which exceeds standard deviations is: +1, 16%. +1.3, 11%, +1.6, 5%, +2, 2+, +2.3, 1%. Let's say a law school wants to admit only students with IQs over 120: what is its potential target population by group? Whites, normally distributed around 100, 120 is +1.3, 11% of 3.5 million is 380000. Asians, normally distributed around 105, 120 is +1, 16% of 170000 is 28000. Jewish, 7000. Blacks, normally distributed around 85, 120 is + 2.3, 1% of 550,000 is 5500. So, barring some kind of thumb on the scale, that's your level-playing-field result. And it doesn't add up to social peace.

I'd be a lot happier to put a thumb on the scale for people whose parents are uneducated or poor (that will do nice things for some Hmong and some whites from the hollows of Appalachia as well as blacks from urban ghettoes) than to make race the major criterion and send benefits heavily to favored-minority kids whose parents were themselves relatively fortunate, college- educated even though minority.

steve said...

Dave S.,

Nice analysis. Now run it for 130, which is typical for PhDs in physics, math or CS (actually, for elite programs, perhaps 140-150+ is the threshold).

Larry Summers got into a lot of trouble by thinking out loud about this re: male vs female variances in apititude distribution.

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2005/02/summers-lynching.html

BTW, I would be all for affirmitive action based on SES (Social-Economic Status), but that isn't what is happening now...

Anonymous said...

If I am not being overtly stereotypical I think the primary reason that "Asian-Americans" (meaning mostly of East Asian descent) do so well in academics (primarily math and science) is due to the following broad reasons:

1. they study like hell!... as a group much more so than other communities (except perhaps Jews); it's the only way they can gain socio-economically as a minority community (who, perhaps, do not feel fully integrated (as-yet) within the predominantly Eurocentric host country [USA]);

2. they [Asian-American students] generally feel external pressures (e.g. family and societal) to succeed in 'career-oriented' activities;

3. most Asian-Americans I have encountered are rather 'studious' and 'hard-working' but rarely profoundly thoughtful in humanistic terms - i.e. their interests go into fields like engineering, science, medicine, etc. but rarely into philosophy, art history, literature, etc. [again, I do not mean to seem disrespectful, but this is due to years of actual encounters]

Perhaps if more (European-)Americans had more person-to-person interaction with Asian-Americans they would conclude that there isn't anything profoundly magical about this community: it's just that they are under more-than-average pressure to succeed.

As for blacks, they face other (and possibly even greater) challenges; for them a sense of pervasive alienation tends to counter their desire to work hard in a social context where they were once treated as nothing more than bonded slave-laborers...

Hispanics just want to have it their way no-matter the consequence; most of them identify themselves as 'white' Americans, and hence they don't feel such external pressures to succeed to 'prove themselves'.

To end, I have met many 'white' Americans who are exceptionally talented (in math and science), and many 'Asian-Americans' who are exceptionally un-talented (in English literature). So the debate may require some rethink.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Anonymous: It would be very interesting to see what effect removing legacies would have on higher education, especially at elite schools.

Anonymous said...

Being the product of an Asian American parent and a European American parent perhaps gives me more of an "inside" look at this whole race preference issue. I have cousins who are half Arab African American and half European American. They don't identify as African American because they choose to emphasize the Arab aspect of their ethnic/cultural identity. Arabs enslaved Africans and were the oppressor, not the oppressed. However, these relatives do not let that stop them from taking advantage of their African ethnicity to obtain massive scholarships from top universities. Plus, their parents are both college educated and one parent even has a Ph.D. One of these kids got into an Ivy League institution with a 1200 SAT. If this kid had been of Asian ancestry instead, the admissions committee would probably have just laughed and tossed the application in the reject pile. The point of all of this is that in some cases the slots reserved for those poor downtrodden African Americans are going to highly privileged students who aren't even really Black and couldn't get in otherwise. We need to use a different approach.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when whites rules the world....it all goes down...

Anonymous said...

yes, and i have met many whites who suck at english. stop with the stereotype that asians are only smart because they work hard and study like crazy (24/7). asians are smart because of a variety of reasons.

hp said...

oh yeah. and think about it, if other races work just as hard as asians, then would they be equal to, greater than, or below that of asians? and i know many asians who are talented in art, and literature, and history, but especially art and literature. but seems like some people don't like there works b/c of racist feelings

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