Free Harvard, Fair Harvard: Enrollment Trends

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

The graph below shows the number of Harvard students by ethnic group, relative to the total college age US population of that group (Harvard Enrollment Per Capita = HEPC). Over the last 20 years, the Asian American HEPC has declined by almost 60%. Unless Asian American applicants to Harvard have, on average, declined significantly in relative quality (anecdotal evidence suggests that is far from true), we are left with a mystery: Why has Asian American HEPC declined so precipitously?

Only the innumerate can fail to be intrigued (alarmed? offended?) by this simple observation.

Some caveats: both numerator and denominator for HPEC are difficult to determine. The former comes from NCES data (National Center for Education Statistics), self-reported by universities. The denominator comes from Census bureau Current Population Survey data, and is a bit noisy year to year. I doubt we can trust the HEPC number from one year to the next, but the 20 year trend is probably roughly reliable.

The Economist covered this topic recently in an article entitled The model minority is losing patience. From their chart, one can see that the HEPC mystery extends to the rest of the Ivy League: Asian American enrollment at the Ivies has mysteriously converged at around 15-20%, despite the huge growth in college age Asian American population over the last 20 years.

Caltech is the one school among those in the graph which explicitly declines to use race as a preference (or penalty) in admissions. Caltech has the academically strongest student body and its alumni win more Nobel Prizes and major science and technology awards per capita than any other school.

If you are a Harvard degree holder, I urge you to vote for the Free Harvard, Fair Harvard slate in the coming Overseer elections this spring. We are asking for greater transparency in Harvard admissions, which would help resolve the HEPC mystery discussed above.

See also 20 years @15 percent: does Harvard discriminate against Asian-Americans?

The historical parallels with anti-semitic practices of the early 20th century are reviewed in detail:

… In a letter to the chairman of the committee, President Lowell wrote that “questions of race,” though “delicate and disagreeable,” were not solved by ignoring them. The solution was a new admissions system giving the school wide discretion to limit the admission of Jewish applicants: “To prevent a dangerous increase in the proportion of Jews, I know at present only one way which is at the same time straightforward and effective, and that is a selection by a personal estimate of character on the part of the Admissions authorities … The only way to make a selection is to limit the numbers, accepting those who appear to be the best.”

… The reduction in Jewish enrollment at Harvard was immediate. The Jewish portion of Harvard’s entering class dropped from over 27 percent in 1925 to 15 percent the following year. For the next 20 years, this percentage (15 percent) remained virtually unchanged.

… The new policy permitted the rejection of scholastically brilliant students considered “undesirable,” and it granted the director of admissions broad latitude to admit those of good background with weaker academic records. The key code word used was “character” — a quality thought to be frequently lacking among Jewish applicants, but present congenitally among affluent Protestants.

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

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