Do Asians Face Discrimination at Top Virginia Universities?

racial_breakdownby James A. Bacon

Many Asian-Americans are getting frustrated with the enrollment caps on Asians at some of the United States’ most prestigious institutions of higher education. As Jason Riley recently opined in the Wall Street Journal, Asian-Americans are the new Jews, academic high achievers who are under-represented on top college campuses in comparison to their qualifications.

A coalition of more than 60 Asian-American groups is asking federal authorities to investigate possible racial bias in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University. Harvard, like many prestigious universities, makes extra room for “legacies,” mostly white, in appreciation of, or expectation of, generous alumni contributions. At the same time, Harvard also considers race/ethnicity among other factors when admitting African-Americans and Hispanics. That leaves non-legacy but high-achieving Asian-Americans in the cold at a competitive disadvantage. Writes Riley:

Asians have some of the highest academic credentials but the lowest acceptance rates at the nation’s top schools, a result that the coalition attributes to “just-for-Asians admissions standards that impose unfair and illegal burdens on Asian-American college applicants.” A 2009 paper by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that “Asian-Americans have the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT test score bracket, having to score on average approximately 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a black student on the SAT to be on equal footing.”

Bacon’s take. So, I began wondering, what is the track record of Virginia’s public universities? Are Asian-Americans getting a fair shake in the Old Dominion? I had no idea what to expect, but I crunched some numbers.

Asian-Americans represented 5.5% of Virginia’s population in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The percentage is probably higher today.) But that’s not a proper basis for comparison. Asians out-perform all other racial/ethnic groups academically in high school, so a better basis of comparison is the percentage of academic high achievers. There may be different ways to calculate that number, and I welcome any input on different ways to do it. What I did was consult the Virginia Department of Education’s online build-a-database tool to ascertain a racial breakdown of students who scored “advanced pass” in their SOLs for all grades.  For each racial/ethnic group, I averaged the advanced-pass rate to derive a composite score, as seen in the pie chart above.

By this metric, Asian-Americans comprise 12% of the top-scoring students in Virginia K-12 schools. For purposes of the argument I’m making, this is a very conservative measure. The numbers could well be even more skewed for metrics of college-ready students such as SAT scores or AP exam results.

So, how does the Asian enrollment compare for Virginia’s most selective institutions of higher education? Here are the percentages for Asian undergraduate enrollees at Virginia’s highest-ranked public universities:


The University of Virginia is dead-on target but the other three fall far short. While suggestive enough to demand digging deeper, these numbers are not, by themselves, proof of discrimination against Asian-Americans. Perhaps one reason there are so few Asians at James Madison University, to take one example, is that the institution gets very few Asian-American applicants.  A better basis of comparison is the percentage of applicants accepted at each university.

uva_admissionsWhile I could not find current racial breakdowns of admission as a percentage of applicants in an online search this morning, I did locate a research paper that provided some statistics for fall 2003 admissions. The paper, “Affirmative Action at Three Universities,” compared undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia and North Carolina State along with law school admissions at the College of William & Mary.

While Asians were admitted at a slightly lower rate than Hispanics or whites at the University of Virginia, the rate was not severely out of line. Any discrimination in admissions was markedly in favor of African-Americans, not against Asians. At the William & Mary law school, Hispanics were severely under-represented, while Asians were somewhat under-represented. (Please note: This data is more than 10 years old and not necessarily reflective of current patterns.)

This scatter-shot evidence suggests that Asians may face discrimination when applying to some of Virginia’s top-tier universities. But the evidence is impressionistic at best. It would be necessary to get better data before drawing definitive conclusions. On the other hand, I would argue that the evidence is strong enough to warrant taking a closer look.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

12 responses to “Do Asians Face Discrimination at Top Virginia Universities?

  1. you’re not calling for regulation I hope!


  2. Interesting article Jim. This debate has been playing out at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County for quite some time. My understanding is that admission to the school is based on a standardized test. The school focuses on Science and Technology.

    “More than 66 percent of the students in next fall’s incoming class are of Asian descent, with just 10 black and eight Hispanic students admitted to the magnet school’s Class of 2018.”

    “In 2012, the school system faced a complaint, filed with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that the school discriminates against minority and poor students.”

    Fascinating. The school admits 66% Asian-American students but discriminates against minorities in a county that is 17.5% Asian-American.

    There have been rumblings that perhaps white students are being discriminated against as well.

    As a long time white resident of Fairfax County let me say – good for Thomas Jefferson High School. You give the test, you get the results. The best get in in and the others have to go back to the school in their home district. If Asian – Americans are 4X over-represented vs the population average – so be it. Those students earned the spot and they should get the spot.

    • I totally agree. I believe in meritocracy. If Asian kids are out-performing everyone else, they should reap the rewards. If parents of other races want little Johnnie to be a “balanced” human being, or “give back,” or “discover himself”; if they don’t want to push little Johnnie beyond his comfort zone; or if they simply can’t motivate little Johnny to get off his computer games, they’re making choices that they need to live with.

  3. Somewhat meaningless to focus on the Virginia state schools only, given the private and out-of-state options also available to the truly gifted and talented students. And what was the number for George Mason, given how many of the families you are talking about live in Northern Virginia? Or VCU, which markets itself as a beacon of diversity? Don’t pluck out four schools and draw conclusions, Jim. Let me break it to you gently — UVA ain’t the center of the universe. You accept that, and I’ll agree to the same concerning William and Mary.

    If there are thousands of students with Asian heritage coming out of VA high schools with 1200-1400+ SATs who can’t find a four-year school, we might have heard a little something before now….

  4. I actually agree also and it this makes some folks realize that they ARE in a competition and that excelling in advanced math and reading WILL get one a better station in life regardless of one’s color – or even economic status.

    could be embarrassing to both whites and blacks, eh?

    be prepared for the “they’re not one of us” crowd getting their bowels in an uproar.

    • You live in a county with 2.4% Asian Americans. I live in a county with 17.5% Asian Americans. Where I live nobody says, “they’re not one of us”. Asian Americans are admired for their hard work, family values, entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to improving the lives of their children through focus and education.

      God bless the Asian Americans in Fairfax County. They represent an example for all of us to follow.

      • Oh you’re 100% correct Don. But have you had your ear to the ground out in the Red Rural Hintelands of late?

        and all this stuff we read here in BR about how terrible public schools are and how incompetent public school teachers are… and how the solution is to provide vouchers to better schools… and here the poor Asians – no one told them that sending their kids to public schools was a mistake, eh?

        remember – the liberals are converting our urban areas – one by one into Detroits…. Fairfax is next…

  5. there’s some interesting maps out there that show education opportunity by zip code:

    Fairfax scores high.

    Apparently the Asian community doesn’t need the map -they already know.

    • The Asian Americans are a big part of why Fairfax County scores high. They don’t play liberal reindeer games. They push their children to excel and they do excel.

  6. here’s another:

    In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters
    A study finds the odds of rising to another income level are notably low in certain cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, and much higher in New York and Boston.

  7. Looking at the pie chart I would assume that ‘Old Jews’ are being outclassed by the ‘New Jews’. Since you appear to want to go down that road, what percentage of the pie chart is made up of people of Jewish decent? And what about that ‘legacy’ category? I can’t seem to find it in the chart either.

Leave a Reply