Harvard makes more offers to Asian Americans after lawsuit

For most competitive class ever, Asian Americans claim more than a quarter of seats

March 29, 2019

Harvard University has announced its first freshman class since last autumn’s three-week trial challenging its admissions policies, with a notable boost in its acceptances of Asian American applicants.

Of the 1,950 students invited to Harvard’s Class of 2023, 25.4 per cent identify as Asian American, up from 22.7 per cent a year ago, the university said. Black students account for 14.8 per cent of the new class, based on admission invitations, down from 15.5 per cent a year earlier.

The lawsuit against Harvard was filed five years ago by opponents of affirmative action policies designed to increase minority representation in US universities. To press its claim, the plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, alleged that Harvard’s admissions process systematically excludes Asian Americans with high academic records by assigning them lower scores on personal characteristics.

The case is still pending, with a final resolution potentially awaiting a US Supreme Court decision that could complicate existing US legal precedents that clearly allow race-based considerations in college admissions.

While some conservatives have long pressed to end affirmative action, Harvard’s admissions record may leave Students for Fair Admissions struggling to prove that the university does not admit enough Asian Americans.

Even before the latest admissions figures, Harvard already had accepted 2,460 Asian American students over a six-year period – almost as many as its 2,693 black and Latino admissions combined – according to data presented at the trial in Boston.

Black students, in fact, may have the clearer grievance. The data presented at the trial showed that 2,680 white students admitted during the six years were athletes or had family ties to a donor, an alumnus or a university staff member.

Harvard’s announcement of its Class of 2023 does not indicate the degree to which that trend continues, as the university does not provide data on so-called legacy applications as part of its annual admissions report.

A Harvard spokeswoman said that the lawsuit by Students for Fair Admissions had no effect on the increase in Asian American admissions. The decline from last year in the number of black acceptances was also accompanied by a decline in black applications, she noted.

A record low of 4.5 per cent of applications to Harvard were approved. Those invited have until 1 May to respond.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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