Podcast: Panel: Do Asians face a higher bar in College admissions?

As their children approach the college process, some families face a uniquely challenging question: does the model minority myth help or hurt their students in college applications? Given the cases before the Supreme Court, the lack of transparency in the admissions process, and differing values around education, this discussion is overshadowed by strong opinions, confusion, and deliberate misinformation. On top of this, recent immigrants and first-generation applicants are particularly impacted by an unfamiliarity with the American way of getting into college, which–let’s just say it–is stressful and confusing for everyone, no matter their background. Today’s episode is a recording of a panel discussion with renowned experts on admissions reform, standardized testing, race-conscious admissions practices, and Asian American politics.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Sheila Akbar: 

I want to be a part of raising the next generation of diverse leadership. And how do we do that if some part of the system is sending the message, that the students aren’t good enough being who they are, and they have to hide certain parts of themselves? Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. It’s May, which is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And as a proud Asian American, I want to do, I want to do a couple episodes focusing and highlighting some issues that are directly related to this community. This is a recording of a panel discussion with some really amazing folks. And I think you’ll come away with a lot of new insight about how the college admissions process works, what exactly race conscious admissions is, and who it helps. So take a listen. Thank you all for joining us panelists and audience alike. I think time is the most valuable thing that we can give to each other. And so I really appreciate your time tonight. We are here to talk about race conscious admissions practices, and what the impacts may be on certain groups. And we have a wonderful panel of experts that I will let introduce themselves in just a moment. But I’m Sheila Signet Education’s president and COO. Signet is a full service educational consulting company. We do test prep, tutoring, executive function, coaching, and college admissions work with students. And this topic is a real interesting one for me, not just as a, you know, an Asian child of immigrants myself, but I think a lot of clients have a lot of parents in general have questions about this, especially with what’s going on in front of the Supreme Court, we’re waiting for their decisions. We don’t know when that’s coming out. But soon, and I think rightly so. Some people are very concerned about what those decisions are going to mean for students, for institutions for advisors. So we’re hoping tonight to shed a little bit of light on what are we even talking about when we say race, conscious admissions or affirmative action? And what are these cases? And what is the history for various ethnic groups or backgrounds, applying to schools? And we know there are a lot of rumors out there, where’s the truth? And how can we find it? And so I’ve convened this wonderful panel to help us explore this topic. Why don’t we just take a minute and each of you introduce yourselves. We’ll go from just the order. You guys are on my screen.

Akil Bello: 

Sounds good. Good evening. I’m Akil Bello current role is Senior Director of Advocacy and Advancement at FairTest. I’ve been in and around testing, test preparation and college admissions, really actually fifth grade through grad school testing and admissions for going on 30 years now. So I’ve looked at this in a whole bunch of different ways. And so I’m happy to share my thoughts.

Sheila Akbar: 

Great to have you here. Susie.

Suzi Nam: 

Hey folks, Susie Nam. I’m currently an executive search consultant, as well as an executive coach and leadership development coach. But in my former life, I worked most of my career in higher ed doing admission work partly at my alma mater, which was a college in New Jersey and then partly at Swarthmore College. And I also spent some time being Director of College Counseling at a few different independent schools in the Philly area, and also spent some time as an executive director of a nonprofit foundation that helps low income rural students die and go to college and find jobs. I’m delighted to be here with you all.

Sheila Akbar: 

Thanks, Susie.

Marie Bigham: 

I’m Marie Bigham. I’m founder and executive director of ACCEPT, which is an admissions advocacy group that centers racial justice and the paths to college, I worked in college admissions as a at my alma mater as an admissions rep at Washington you in St. Louis, and as a college counselor at four different independent schools around the country. And like Suzy was also privileged to serve in national leadership of the profession and to be out there as a voice. And this is something that’s really important to me as a multiracial, Asian woman who grew up in a time where these conversations were really intense. So like, there’s a lot out there that we need to dispel. So I’m very, very thrilled to be here.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, thank you for being here. Janelle.

Janelle Wong: 

It’s great to be here. My name is Janelle Wong, and I am a professor of Asian American Studies. I’m the director of Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park. And I am also a senior researcher at AAPI data. And that is an organization that really tries to bring the stories of Asian Americans to the broader public.

Sheila Akbar: 

Awesome. Well, you can see we have some real experts in here to help us understand what’s going on. And I always like to start, I am an academic, I like to start by defining my terms and Suzy, I’m gonna put you on the spot if you could define some terms for us in particular, what are we talking about? When we say race conscious admissions practices?

Suzi Nam: 

I think the two terms that get tossed around a lot are race conscious admission practices as well as affirmative action. And they’re often used interchangeably. But they are different in the sense where affirmative action refers to the policies or the programs or procedures that are actually aimed to improve educational opportunities for underrepresented people. Whereas race conscious admission refers to admission offices, colleges, considering the race of a student as one factor in their application for admission. So slightly different in terms of the definition. I don’t know if we actually have an academic here. So maybe she has a better definition. But that that’s generally how I tease it out for folks

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, Janelle, you want to jump in?

Janelle Wong: 

I think you’re right, Suzi. There’s not an exact definition. But I think what’s important to emphasize here is that in the contemporary period, race is just one of many, many, many factors. That’s why we call it race conscious admissions. It’s not ever the only factor. It’s not the primary factor in any kind of admissions decision. And so that’s what’s known today as race conscious admissions, it is not a very robust form of what we call affirmative action, because race is really one of the less important kinds of factors that’s taken into account.

Sheila Akbar: 

Thank you. And I’m wondering if somebody could jump in on where did these policies and practices come from? And who are they meant to serve? Or what problem are they meant to ameliorate or solve?

Marie Bigham: 

I would say broadly, how race is considered in holistic admissions at places that don’t admit everyone, I think the best way and the most accurate way of thinking of it is that students get to tell their story. And for many people, the racialized experience is a part of their story. And so students get to tell their stories in lots of ways, right? Through essays through their extracurriculars through the classes they choose. This is one impact of it. And in terms of who that impacts, I’ll be honest, I think race conscious practices actually impact everybody, right? Who benefits? Everyone.

Sheila Akbar: 

I’d love to hear a little bit more about how they benefit everyone if we can.

Janelle Wong: 

I’ll make it really quick. My colleague at University of Maryland, Dr. Julie Park has shown in several studies that a racially diverse campus environment creates better learning outcomes, not for any particular group. But all students benefit in terms of showing, demonstrating better learning outcomes when they are exposed to a more interactions with people of different racial backgrounds.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s helpful. So I’m just kind of musing out loud here. But when we say diversity, oftentimes we think of racial diversity, we think of gender diversity, we may think of other kinds of diversity, but what are we aiming for? Are their goals that a college might have in mind when they’re trying to create a diverse student body? How do they measure that?

Akil Bello: 

Sort of? And I think that what’s interesting when looking at cases and looking at those who feel excluded, what often happens is they ignore a whole litany of things that have been considered before, instead of, parallel to race, right? When colleges are looking at enrollment goals, they want all 50 states. Think about how many catalogs you’ve gotten where it’s like, we have all 50 states and 37 countries and, and 3 territories and a partridge in a pear tree, right? So colleges have an intent to not admit all the same basic profile. Whatever demographic you want to choose, they’ve probably paid attention to that. Many colleges are attentive to gender diversity, many colleges are attentive to their budgetary diversity. They have to admit the legacy students who are going to donate money because they don’t have to, they choose to. So So for me, the interesting thing, and I’m gonna use interesting because there are other words I won’t use. The interesting thing is that when you segregate out the conversation of college admissions, and only want to focus on race as potentially a problem, there are all these other things, sports, donors, faculty kids, wealthy, all of these other things that are being ignored, because you’re choosing to say race is a problem, and everything else is fine. That’s strange to me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think relatedly, I mean, there are a number of questions that come out of what you just said here. But when people take issue with the idea of considering race in admissions, but don’t take issue with considering any of these other factors that you just mentioned, Akil. It leads to, I think, a lot of misconceptions and a lot of like heightened emotions, right. Race is a very thorny subject, especially in the United States. But one of the things that’s come out of that is a lot of people think that race conscious admissions or what they’re thinking of as affirmative action, make things easier for some backgrounds and harder for other backgrounds. So can we tease out that idea a little bit? Why do people think that way? I know one of the things that plays into that is Is there is this mistaken idea that we can only have this exact number of this kind of student and this exact number of that kind of student? Do those sort of quotas actually exist? And what else is part of that misperception. Janelle, I think you want to take this.

Janelle Wong: 

Yeah, I mean, I think what’s really important, especially in my own community, the Chinese American community, there have been a lot of attention to the potential of quotas. If in affirmative action, it’s almost like the shorthand for affirmative action programs, or race conscious admissions is equivalent to quotas. But if you really look carefully, at the legal cases, I think it’s pretty clear that quotas have been ruled unconstitutional since 1978, with Bakke. And we and colleges and universities are hyper aware of that precedent in the law. And so they are very attentive to really I mean, they’re they’re very fearful of quotas, more generally, maybe overly so because they are hyper hyper conscious of not allowing quotas. And that’s why you see, in a case like the Harvard case on race conscious admissions, that if you look at the data, you see a real fluctuation in the proportion, let’s say, of Asian Americans who are admitted, and actually you do see a kind of creeping up every year or two of those numbers in a general way. And so we don’t see a lot of evidence of quotas. And that’s because I think the universities and colleges that are grappling with these issues have not been using them for such a long time, because they don’t want to ever have a lawsuit. And they know that would get litigated by Asian American organizations immediately. And that’s just not happening.

Sheila Akbar: 

So maybe we can touch on this gray area of well, as Akil said, colleges don’t want to admit a single type of student we’re aiming for some sort of diversity, we can’t use quotas. So what actually happens? How do we balance these things?

Suzi Nam: 

I think in terms of what actually happens is everybody, the were to so overused, but really, most electric colleges use holistic admissions. And what holistic means is taking a look at the context of each student. And you know, what their like Marie had talked about what their story is, and their own context and figuring out how have they really over achieved or you know, really shined in that context, and whether or not that’s something that they want as part of their class for that particular year. And the needs change every year, because they’re kind of balancing out this entire student, undergraduate or graduate population. They’re looking at a particular class each year, but they’re really thinking about the whole of the community, right? So they’re balancing out their orchestra or their classics majors or the kid is going to come from South Dakota that year, or whatever it is, they’re really trying to balance that out. So that again, the representation is there, whatever is important to them, in terms of an institution priority, so there is really no formula year to year, it changes based on needs and goals that they have is an institution that they want to achieve. And I the one thing I do want to say that that I thought Janelle was so on point with is, especially when we’re looking at the Supreme Court cases, I think there’s a lot of Asian Americans being used as a wedge, right, in terms of oh, this is hurting Asians, right, in particular, with affirmative action or race conscious based admission. And I think one of the things that should be cleared up right away is that we should not conflate actual racism with race conscious admission, because there are two different things. Okay. So race conscious admission actually helps admissions folks see Asians, the whole person with all different authentic stories, but then the trope of racism and the stereotypes that come with what people think that model minority is, or whatever it is that are attached to the Asians, that’s what hurt Asians in the process, it’s actually not race conscious admission, in many, many instances, race conscious admission, actually helps Asians in the admission process in terms of telling their full story and really making them appear remarkable within a pool.

Sheila Akbar: 

Thank you. Akil and Marie, I think you were both about to say something,

Akil Bello: 

I think that the piece that many overlook in this process, right? Is no one externally has a real perception of what’s going on internally in the office and what’s driving those decisions, right? People are making claims about who’s admitted who’s not but with no sense of what the pool was. Right? No sense of what the priorities were. And you can question the outcomes. You can question whether you think they’re considering the right things. I think it’s very weird for public institutions. I’ll I’ll reserve judgment on private institutions. I think it’s very, very strange for public institutions that should be for the public good to consider legacy admissions. That just seems wrong at a basic level. Right. But to say that what level of priority they have without having all the information is weird, right? It’s also not something I would necessarily do. So I think that one of the problems in this conversation is somebody saying I’m disadvantaged without having the information to actually He got a legitimate claim. Right. And I think that’s part of the conversation that isn’t really teased out enough.

Sheila Akbar: 

Marie, what were you gonna add?

Marie Bigham: 

Yeah, I wanted to touch on a question that was raised regarding what’s institutional priorities. And that’s the phrase that Suzy used, that Akil used. It’s something we talk a lot about in admissions amongst the profession. But it’s not something that we talk a lot about outside of our space. And I think this is absolutely critical for families, for anyone on this to know because one of the questions in the box also said, you know, but Asian students have to do XY and Z, and they’re better and they’re not getting in. So first thing I want to address is that, and I’m just gonna be real upfront, none of us are entitled to a spot at a college period, everyone needs to get over that it doesn’t matter what you do, not everyone is entitled to a spot. So I think we should start with that position. But let’s talk about what institutional priorities are. That’s what drives college admissions. And this is something that is hard to wrap your head around. But trust me on this one, I think we as a world think that the process is centered on the applicant, I apply, these are my grades, I’m telling you all about me, you’re choosing me out of these. And that’s not what happens. What actually happens is about three years before you apply, the university is planning ahead a strategic plan. Here’s what we need as an institution to be healthy financially, and to grow in the way that our bosses, the boards of trustees want us to grow. That might mean more students in STEM, that might mean developing a division one lacrosse program, that might mean more tuition revenue, that might mean all kinds of things. And so you coming to the table with your stuff, you’re not at the center of the conversation, the center of the conversation is what does this college need? And how do you fulfill that need at this moment, if there was anything that anyone should be angry about in terms of what’s given priority, you need to be angry about how wealth is given priority. Wealth and privilege is given priority over everything else. And by that I mean it really directly. Are you able to pay? How much are you willing to pay? Not necessarily able to, that’s what drives a lot of decisions. And so I think one of the awful things we need to do in this process, but might feel a little awful is kind of burst that bubble of how decisions are made. And who is really in the driver’s seat. It is not that unfortunately, you student we’ve been told that you are driving us with your accomplishments. That’s a part of it. But truthfully, the most important part is that strategic plan of that college that’s being run as a business.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s such a great point. And thank you for illuminating all of that I think that context of you know, who’s driving these decisions, and where where those motivations come from is just so valuable. And I think to Akil’s point, that lack of transparency, no applicant can know what those priorities are in a given application cycle and know who their competition is, or you know, who’s in the pool, or even how many spaces a college really has to offer, given who’s deferred or who’s taking a leave of absence or, you know, any number of other factors. And I think that lack of transparency is something that leads to a lot of these feelings of this was unfair, or, you know, something along those lines.

Marie Bigham: 

Well, it’s something to consider as well, right? Like this is a limited resource in terms of space available. And you know, and Suzy said we need more classics majors like it, let’s approach this from a different direction. We don’t colleges don’t need more of his students who want to study computer science, who want to go into STEM because we’ve done a great job of telling them, that’s what they should do. And so when you talk about competition, that’s one of the things that you should be aware of. It is so much harder to get into some majors because of how many more students want to go into that than another, I learned this weekend that there is a flagship university that has a famous nursing program, they get 6500 applicants a year, they admit point 8% Because that’s how many spots they have. And they give 100%. And so you can dig and you can find the data but understand that part of this sense of lack of spaces that people are clustered into very specific and narrow focus right now. And those majors are rolling. That’s just an important thing to keep in mind.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, great point.

Akil Bello: 

For those of you who don’t dig into data on the daily basis, University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana has a 10-day enrollment report, which should be pretty easy to Google. I find it fascinating because one of the things to Marie’s point that it shows is admission by college, right? And you’ll see the average SATs score for engineering is up here. Average SATs score for education is down here. So when you have a particular group, right, and Asians aren’t, you know, monolith, right, but when I think about diversity in New York, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, like all those, they’re all applying to the same schools, to the same majors with the same credentials. They’re not taking all of you and if that isn’t disaggregated when you say Asians and you’re not disaggregating, California from New York, and you’re not disaggregating, where they’re applying and what their credentials are, then the conversation can’t be rich and full and complete. And to cherry pick. What keeps you out is really personal perspective and Is and not true, right? And even what keeps you out is wrong, even though some of the language we’re using here is problematic, like lack of transparency. Universities can’t be like, here’s our strategic report and how we’re going to use it this year versus last. It’s I think, all of these things like, yeah, it’s a complex system that has a lot of contributing factors, that one family looking at their criteria and what they think should have happened would never actually tell the full story.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great point, I want to move on to a question that I think everyone kind of just referred to, particularly Marie, when everybody is applying into the same type of program or to Akil’s point when everybody has the same credentials. This leads to that bottleneck heightened competition, and the perception that Asians have to work harder to get into the same program that someone of a different background didn’t have to. And I think that interacts very, in interesting ways, with certain cultural priorities that are also common among Asian groups. I mean, my family is Bengali, and education was the sort of end all-be all for myself and my brother, and it’s almost a joke, but it’s kind of true. It was like, my parents didn’t think I was a real human being until I had at least one graduate degree. It’s like, I might as well have dropped out of high school in ninth grade if I didn’t have a master’s degree. And you know, that may seem like hyperbole to some, but I’m sure to others of you. It sounds very familiar. And so how does that sort of work ethic, the different cultural priorities on things like education, or what we might call, you know, professional class jobs, and things like that interact with a phenomenon that both Akil and Marie mentioned of people applying into the same types of programs or applying with the same types of credentials.

Janelle Wong: 

So I’d love to take a crack at that. So Sheila, can I just ask you, where are your parents college educated?

Sheila Akbar: 

My father? Yeah, actually, both of them are my mom didn’t finish but both of them are, yeah.

Janelle Wong: 

Okay. So there’s sometimes an assumption that we see such large numbers of Asian American students, particularly Chinese American, South Asian, Indian American students at selective universities, because they’re the hardest workers or because their parents care so much about education. And of course, many Asian American students, like you, do work really hard, right. But this is not really what sets them apart from their peers, Chinese and Indian students are much more likely to be the children of educated parents than any other group in the United States. Okay, so we think about these children as really benefiting from Asian values. And there’s also some kinds of pushback against that their mental health may be suffering too. But less than 40% of Americans on average, less than 40% of all Americans graduate from college. In contrast, fully almost 80% of Indian immigrants, and about 55% of Chinese immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree. In India, less than 15% of those of college age go to college. In China, less than 15% of people have graduated from college. Okay, so the people coming to the United States are much more educated than the people here and in their country of origin. If education is such a cultural priority, then we should see higher rates of education and the places that birth those cultures, right, that’s where the Asian values are. So this is to say that cultural value, which we see here in the United States, we see it as cultural values, it’s really being the child of a highly educated immigrant are perhaps less important to Asian American college preparation, then selective immigration policy. So the children of highly educated people who are given visas because they are highly educated, like many of our parents, are also likely to value education and be highly educated, because actually all racial groups, there’s a value for education, there’s study after study that shows this. So this is not to say that all Asian Americans are highly educated. I’m talking about the typical, the typical Asian American, especially if they are Chinese or Indian, and they’re just more likely to be highly educated than other groups. More importantly, this high level of education that is the result in large part of selective immigration policies contributes to this very dangerous minority stereotype. The heart of the model minority stereotype is that Asian Americans care more about education and care more about work than other groups. And this model minority stereotype is also seen to hurt Asian American applicants, right? This is what is being kind of litigated in the Harvard case when they are assumed to be nerdy robots lacking in leadership qualities. So Edward Blum suit against Harvard makes a lot of the fact that the small number of Asian American applicants the files that he reviewed, were filled with comments that align with the model minority stereotype like Asian Americans being quiet nerds who lack leadership qualities like very quiet and strong I want to take a look at that this is an opening for us to learn more about that lawsuit, very quiet and very strong. Were on Asian American applicant files and they were also on the files of Black, Latino and White applicants. Harvard interviewer handbook highlights introspection reflective introvert, future leader as qualities to look for in students. So I just want to say think that these kinds of ideas of Asian American being culturally distinct sometimes can blow up in our own faces when it comes to admissions.

Sheila Akbar: 

That is so helpful, Janelle. Yes, I want to applaud as well that was amazing. Anyone else want to chime in?

Marie Bigham: 

As he were talking, I looked up the educational attainment stats for Vietnamese foreign born Vietnamese born here different generations. And I have to thank Janelle and Julie Park, and OiYan Poon. And all of those magnificent researchers, I’ve gotten to know who’ve taught me about the importance of disaggregating data when we talk about Asia, because it’s not the same. It’s absolutely not the same end to looking at the stats for for Vietnamese, I would fall under that big umbrella or stats like that. Right. And so, yeah, just thank you so much for that.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, you mentioned the case that Edward Blum has has brought someone want to give us a just a quick overview of what that case is and what the argument is and what we think might happen.

Janelle Wong: 

There’s no quick overview of that case, unfortunately, I think we should move to keep keep talking. But I think people, we can talk about some of the misconceptions coming out of that case, I would mention that in two of the lower court, you know, the data leading the charge that Asian Americans have to score higher than other groups to have to score higher to get in that has been adjudicated and carefully looked at by two judges. And the judgment has been there is no intentional discrimination against Asian Americans. So I will I will leave the case at that. And let’s talk about some of the worries people have about it.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, yeah. What what are the things that you’re hearing from your sort of constituents? What are the questions you’re getting?

Akil Bello: 

Even before we go there since we have a gap Let me just throw out there. I think it’s important for those who aren’t as aware of this. We keep saying Ed Blum, and then the case, I think it’s important to distinguish that right. So the power behind bringing the case, right, the person behind it is a guy who also brought the Fisher case in Texas. So basically, his life work is creating cases to go against affirmative action, right, and to get as many as possible into the Supreme Court. So there was the Fisher case in Texas that didn’t work out in his favor. So he found new plaintiffs, so he can stand behind them and bring another case, I think it’s important to recognize that this is what he’s been doing for years. Right. And that that flavors, the perception of what’s going on here at colors, it gives more context as to what is really happening here. Right. It’s a guy who’s specifically fishing to push his agenda forward.

Janelle Wong: 

And Ed Blum has also brought, he’s not just trying to bring down affirmative action, he has tried to undermine minority voting rights, including for Asian Americans and immigrant political representation. It’s interesting, because at the K through 12 cases that involve Asian parents who are suing specialized high schools and magnet programs for changing their admissions standards, a single law firm is providing pro bono representation. It’s called the Pacific legal foundation. Many people think this is an Asian American Law Firm. No, go look, look right now, at the masthead of the Pacific legal foundation. It’s for white men. And most of their lawyers are also white. And they have only hired in the last two years, a few last time I looked, there was only three Asian American lawyers. So this is, you know, I think, understanding who is representing Asian America whose interests are being pushed forward in these cases,

Sheila Akbar: 

Right, just because the organization that Ed Blum is behind is called students for fair admission doesn’t mean it’s about, you know, pushed by students or or about fairness, really. I wonder if we might want to take this question here. Marie mentioned you’d like to respond to it about how did these dynamics play out with non US citizens?

Marie Bigham: 

I think that’s a great question. Because here’s the most important thing to know about students from outside of the US, you are there to provide as much tuition dollars to the university as possible, first and foremost. So the question is, are there different standards for students who are international applicants? Yes, there are. And that first standard, first and foremost is can you pay? And if you can’t, with the exception of a very small handful of colleges under 10, that is 100% of the driver can you pay? And how much does it matter at most colleges that are four year colleges, if you’re an international student, you have to send bank statements that show that you have the cash on hand to pay the full freight for four years. So when families say, oh, it’s harder for international students? Yes, it absolutely is. Without question, the system is designed to be that way.

Janelle Wong: 

I mean, international students across especially public universities as state dollars go down and they’re and state dollars now at my own university, which has almost the highest level of state funding and that level of state funding is 15. One five percent of our budget is from tax dollars. Okay? The rest of that money has to come from somewhere and international students and out of state students are the prize that can pay. Getting back to Marie’s point, international students and out of state students who can pay full tuition or a sought after price.

Akil Bello: 

It’s also worth noting that there’s a weird conflict of interest in some institutions with that not conflict of interest, but a weird pull and pull, push and pull in different direct Since there are limits on the number of out of state and international students they can admit, so A, we’ve limited the population and B, we need more money from them.

Sheila Akbar: 

So besides the money question for international students, are the other standards different? Do you think they’re weighted differently? Do you know?

Akil Bello: 

I mean, that would depend on the volume of applicants, right? Because let’s say, and I’m gonna make up an example here, but in theory, a university that is counting on 30% of their budget internationally, and they only get enough students to make 29% of seats, then maybe they were thinking about academic criteria when they went into it, but they need to make that budget number. So there are lots of drivers that you can’t really know. Right? And what if they have 10 times as many international applicants suddenly, UT Tyler got exciting and like, like that, that big kerfuffle was was really strange, right. But all of a sudden, 50 kids from Nepal decided to apply to UT Tyler? That created a problem and it create a strain on their budget. So I think there are lots of different things that factor into this that you don’t know, externally looking in. And we can only sort of guess that and try to tease out with looking at data

Sheila Akbar: 

Akil, I wonder if we could stay with you for a little bit. Most of your work is centered around standardized testing. I know that’s how you and I met. And I have heard from families that, you know, the reason they took away the test during COVID was to keep Asians out and I have heard things you know, I did my best not to laugh was like, Oh, interesting, tell me more, what’s your source? I have heard things like, you know, Asians or Indians need to score this many points higher, to be on the same footing. As you know, somebody from another background. We’ve already mentioned that wealth really correlates to who’s accepted and wealth and standardized testing, there’s been, you know, a lot of very compelling studies about how closely those two things are correlated. So talk to us a little bit about the role of testing and all of this.

Akil Bello: 

It varies a ton depending on what institution you’re talking about. So that’s the starting point. Right? So broad generalizations are tough, right? Statistically, you’re right, right. Like, I don’t believe any of the testing agencies disaggregate Asians, so all we have is Asian, but Asians score the highest, and then White, and then you go down from there, right men score higher than women. So all of those things are contributing factors to some of the information we get. But what that always leaves out is GPA, all of the other things that are considered if you look at the Harvard case, for instance, I one of the things that came out of this is legacy, donor kids, faculty, children, I think the number was something like their average SATs score is 200 points lower. So if you don’t have any of those hooks, then you have to score higher, right? If you don’t meet any of the institutional priorities, that they’re selecting, then you have to score higher, so to speak. But one number I looked at Brown, I believe it wasn’t this wasn’t part of any case. But I think it was, I saw some data from 2015, that if you were an applicant from South Dakota, you had a 19% chance of getting admitted to brown, whereas the rest of the country was like six. So there’s a South Dakota bias.

Sheila Akbar: 

Everybody just move to South Dakota.

Akil Bello: 

So all of these things are, if you want to hyper focus on one number, you can probably find something but you’re not taking into account that specialties highly rejected places where they have a whole slew of applicants for every seat. And to a certain extent, you can say they get to pick, right, they get to pick and say this is a neat, I’m filling whether it is a need for basketball players or cellist or whatever else it is, I get to pick because I have seven of them in my applicant pool. And so that’s the issue that’s at hand really is that they get to pick if you don’t bring something unique to the table that something unique that the institution is looking for in that cycle, that you may not be selected. Most people aren’t looking at it that they’re saying, Hey, I have these numbers, I should get in.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. There are a couple of things that I do want to sort of move us into before we open up for more questions. And one of the things that I’ve seen a lot and have been like really saddened by our articles and major publications talking about students who felt they had to hide their true identity because they thought it would help them in the admissions process. And I think that it just breaks my heart for so many different reasons. But all of us are sort of in a position of leadership, mentorship, we advise students, we advise families or we advise businesses and even universities in some cases. And so I’m trying to think about, well, I want to be a part of raising the next generation of diverse leadership. And how do we do that if some part of the system is sending the message, that the students aren’t good enough being who they are, and they have to hide certain parts of themselves. So I’m wondering if we could talk about that for a minute.

Janelle Wong: 

I’d love to talk about that. And I think Sheila, this gets to the question that was just posted about based on a higher standard for Asian Americans. And I want to answer that with this that, you know, there’s this myth that there’s an Asian American penalty that is at the heart of this challenge to Harvard, and its power is really evident in this widely circulated but I’m proven notion that Asian Americans must hide their race. To get into a highly selective college. The holistic admissions process that Harvard and other highly selective universities rely on does not reduce students to like a checkbox, or use race as a determining or single factor in deciding who gets in. And that is why race conscious, holistic admission processes have been ruled constitutional for more than 40 years. So I want to put this out there. Clearly, this kind of race conscious admissions process works very well for Asian Americans who constitute less than 10% of the student population, but more than 27% of Harvard’s incoming class, and let me finish with this. We only know that statistic. We only know that statistic because that group of admitted Asian American students checked the Asian box. Okay, before they got into Harvard, they checked it, and they got in. So that is a false claim that Asian Americans face a racial penalty in the admissions process. I think it’s a highly effective scare tactic used by, no offense, a lot of private college admissions counselors like those featured in that New York Times story to drum up business.

Akil Bello: 

There’s one of those counselors who has on their website, they’re they’re examples of great work they did. And they basically put that stereotype out there, like this student didn’t get in because of their race, we told them to apply somewhere else, and they got in as if the race were the only factor that made the difference.

Sheila Akbar: 

Also, as if where you get into college defines your life, it really doesn’t. Folks, I know that we’re all here to talk about college. It’s an important part of many people’s journey, but it is not the end goal. Sorry, Marie, you we’re gonna say,

Marie Bigham: 

No, to the point, you know, so our standards higher for Asian that is the wrong question to be asking, flat out, here’s the truth, the standards are higher if you need financial aid, than if you don’t, the standards are higher, if you are not an athlete, and it’s a college that cares about athletics, the standards are higher, if it’s a college that cares about legacy and keeping donors happy. And you’re not one of them. There are so many things that disadvantage all of us and races at the bottom of that list. It’s not even a thing that’s really taken into consideration in that way. And I really wish we would all stop it because there are plenty of people to be pissed at, and who look at it and say, I’m at a disadvantage. Plenty you are pointing the finger in the wrong direction, absolutely the wrong direction. And I get really fired up about this question about hiding identity. Like I had mentioned my age, I my mother is a college professor educated in the United States, and was in the thick of these conversations a lot and believed in her heart that no, this process doesn’t work this way. She saw it in action. And yet the noise from everyone else, and always from the aunties, who told me and my brother that we had to hide who we were, that stays with you your whole life, that sense of I have to subjugate my identity, who I am to the people who look like me are telling me I have to hide something for something that they seem to value more than I do that’s damaging. It’s harmful study came out the other day, it’s horrifying about how the stress levels that students feel right now that teenagers are feeling if you dig a little deeper, it’s almost numbers are worse for Asian students and for Asian girls, in part because of this pressure, it breaks my heart that we’re doing this to

Akil Bello: 

A huge part of that addresses the other question each other. that was asked the are there only good eight colleges worth attending, I think that speaks largely to a huge contributing factor of this, right? The narrower your lists, the more you look at the highly rejected, the more you look at the same places as all of your friends, the more difficult it becomes to get in, right. That’s just how it is, if everyone in my house, if all of my children, if I have 1000 children, they all apply to the same college, the college shouldn’t take all of my children, the college doesn’t want all of my children, it would be really hard for one to distinguish himself from all the others. So part of the issue is the narrowing of perception. And that’s been happening over the years, right? That highly selective colleges that 50 or so colleges that are fairly brand name, right, they’ve been getting an increasing number of applications. And so as they’re getting an increasing number of applications, especially from theater schools, and it gets more difficult to get in from those places. So that’s part of the contributing factor is the perception that you can only get a good education at these places, right? It’s a variable rope effect, where it has nothing to do with who’s applying so much as it has to do with the popularity of the spot.

Sheila Akbar: 

Thank you all for those answers. Given all of this, that there’s a lot of data that we can and some that we cannot see that impact a student’s chances of admission, given that this question about race being the big factor that may advantage or disadvantage people ignores all of these other very real factors that do disadvantage or advantage. certain populations. You know, I deal with families every day and I’m trying to talk them through this and as much as I can throw data at them and educate them about this and that Marie to your point, the noise has really seeped into everybody’s understanding of this process and it’s very hard to change some risk perception, especially if they feel personally slighted or disadvantage. So what do you say to people who need to go through this process and want to feel like they can do it with some confidence? I’m going to ask Marie to start.

Marie Bigham: 

Applying with confidence. Oh, my goodness, that’s a great question. I think the best way to reply with confidence is to throw task rankings out. Don’t focus on that, because as Akil said that the funnel for that is so wide. So many people fighting over limited spots that haven’t grown, or, frankly, have shrunk in some places, finding the best fit. And frankly, by that, I mean, usually the place that will cost you the least amount of money to get to that bachelor’s degree where the teaching and academic needs meet you or meet your needs, but that you can afford, I think, starting from that position, and thinking about what you actually value, what you expect a college to deliver for that value, how will you spend like hold them to it, I think those are the ways to approach this process with confidence. I think another way to do it, honestly, it’s something I said earlier, like got to strip away the romanticism of, this is the most important thing I do. This is all about putting me at the center, this wasn’t for four years of my life. It’s not, it’s really truly not, it’s a blip, it doesn’t decide anything, you can look at jobs at all, like salaries, and it’s not going to be about a specific place. So I think go into it really in a cold kind of calculated way. Think about this, like a consumer good that you are buying like this is a very expensive cars, it’s going to drive you someplace strip away kind of that other stuff, great point honestly gives confidence

Sheila Akbar: 

To sort of frame it in a different way. It’s think about what your actual goals are, and what product service institution is going to help you along that path in the most efficient way possible. Right. And your goal may be to build a network of a certain type of people, it may be to get a degree as fast as possible. It may be you know, any number of other things. Right. And that’s going to be different for every

Suzi Nam: 

Yeah, I think one of the things that Marie said is, I student, Susie. think the key to the answer to that is asking the right questions. When you’re asking about just razor you know, that’s the wrong question. You’re not actually getting at the answer. Right. So the question is, what college do I need to go to? To have a great future? The question is, what do I need to do in college to get to the future I want, not about where you go, necessarily. It’s about what you do there and how you make use of whatever resources are available to you, right, because that’s what makes you successful in life. I’m not just college, but just ordinarily, just every day. And I will say just personally, you know, as a community college, I was a poor kid, you know, as a community college graduate that went to their state school Akil and I choked up from Jersey, which I was ashamed of for a while, but now I own it. And then I went to the University of Chicago for my grad work. So it doesn’t determine anything, only what you do when you kind of get to those places. That’s what matters. And so I hope we start asking the right questions for us and for what we want to do and for what your child wants to do, or what you want to do as a student and look inwards to the most important person because as Marie said, You’re not the most important person to the college admissions committee, but you should be the most important person to yourself.

Sheila Akbar: 

So well said thank you, Susie, anyone else want to chime in on that?

Marie Bigham: 

My favorite book in thinking about this is a book that’s actually about paying for college, but I think is absolutely applicable to the whole process. And it’s a book by Ron Lieber, who’s a New York Times writer is called the Price You Pay For College. And it’s really asked you those questions of what do you value? What’s important to you? How do you decide what resources including money time etc, that you’re gonna give to them? And how do you hold colleges accountable for that?

Sheila Akbar: 

Fantastic. I’ll send that around as well. Akil?

Akil Bello: 

I was thinking about the question someone asked about Ed. And I think it ties back together with what Janelle was

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. saying earlier about college educated parents, EDs is a nightmare for underrepresented students all the early The earlier you make it the more complex you make application process, the more low income, low resource low information people have in the process. So ED is a problem, right? Like

Akil Bello: 

So I think those are all things that we’re going to because some institutions are accepting 70% of their enrolling class early. Well, if you don’t know if you can afford it, you can’t apply to one place, you certainly can’t play at one place earlier than all the other places like so there’s all of these complicated things that feed into these problems that occur. So I definitely think that what Marie says, I usually just say blow up the notion of a dream school, right? Because like, I don’t dream about school, I also don’t dream about work. So I have no dream school, no dream job. I dream about lounging on the beach. So I do have a dream beach. But other than that I don’t have a whole lot of dreams around these things. And I think that we have to, it’s hard because we live in a system that isn’t structured to help us understand the education that takes place at these institutions, all the have to do to sort of tone down the obsession of brand. And to rankings look at proxies for the education that takes place. They look at the wealth of the graduates, they look at all of these other things that have nothing to do with the actual teaching that occurs and how much you learn. Right? So I me, it’s brand it’s buying a red bottom ship, right. It’s not a think what we have to do is do the best we can to define your better shoe, but it’s more expensive. And that’s values and find a place that matches your values. And to the extent that there are adults in the room who have hiring power, then to change the culture the places you work so that they aren’t increasing. He’s biases by preferring one institution over another simply based on its wealth and reputation. problematic. And Marie will forgive me for saying that.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, we’re at time, this was a fantastic discussion. Thank you all so much for being here and sharing your wisdom and your experience with us. And if there are questions that we didn’t get to feel free to send me your questions, and I will try to get them answered by this panel as well. So thank you all again, and hope to see you again soon.

Marie Bigham: 

Thank you.

Sheila Akbar: 

All right, everybody. Thank you for tuning in. I know this was a longer episode, but I really do think it was an important one. Next week, I’ll be doing a deeper dive with one of the panelists with Marie Bigham. So tune in for that and until next time, take care

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