Asian American Student Population Growth at Ten Schools from 2006-2015

Jason Fong

While the majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action, some believe that Asian Americans may be adversely affected by race-conscious admissions policies. To find out how Asian Americans were doing at elite universities, I researched admissions trends from 2006-2015 at 10 schools – both public and private. The schools were: University of Texas, Austin; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of Michigan, University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell.  I selected these schools based on “prestige,” as well as whether the schools released their Common Data Sets to the public.

The Common Data Set is a uniform questionnaire sent to hundreds of colleges and universities and provides a standard set of data points about a college’s student body.  The effort is coordinated by the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News and World Report. I collected data from Item B2 (“Enrollment by Race/Ethnic Category”) of the Common Data Set for each of the ten schools.

In order to understand how Asian Americans were doing in comparison with others, I also studied Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and whites.

I found that while Asian American and Latino student enrollment has grown steadily at most schools, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, African American, Native American, and white student enrollment declined at most schools.

For Asian Americans, the undergraduate student population has grown steadily over the past ten years at eight of the ten elite public and private schools studied here, with Princeton experiencing the largest growth. At Princeton, the Asian American student population grew by over 73% over ten years.  Currently, at Harvard, Yale and Princeton collectively, about 1 of 5 students is Asian American.

At UCLA and UC Berkeley, however, the percentage of Asian American undergraduates on campus decreased from 38% to 29% and 40% to 35%, respectively. This decline cannot be attributed to race-conscious admission policies as the University of California has not included race or ethnicity in admissions decisions since 1996.

As the Common Data Set only began disaggregating Native Hawaiian (NH) and Pacific Islanders (PI) from the Asian American population in 2010, I only had five years of data.  However, I found that in the past five years, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander largely stagnated or decreased.  Six of the ten schools examined here had declines in NH and PI enrollment, and half of the schools enrolled fewer than 10 NH or PI students. In 2015, none of the schools had more than 0.35% of its student body identify as NH or PI. Had NH and PI students not been separated from the larger Asian American population, these declines in enrollment would not have been apparent.

The declining trends can also be seen in the Native American community. Nine of the ten schools examined here had declines in Native American enrollment. In 2015, none of the schools had more than 0.6% of its student body identify as Native American, while in 2006, several schools (UMichigan, Princeton, and Yale) had almost 1% of its student body identify as Native American.

Similarly, the percentage of Black students on campus has declined at ALL ten schools examined here with exception of Cornell, where African Americans are now about 6% of the student body. The steepest drops (about 3%) in African American student enrollment occurred at UNC Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan. The percentage of African American undergraduates at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton dropped by more than 1% since 2006.

Like Asian Americans, however, Latinos have seen their numbers rise.  In my study, student enrollment increased at all but one school (UMichigan), as Cornell experienced the largest growth in Latino student population.  Latinos now constitute over 12% of the Cornell student body.  In addition, Latinos are now about 10% of the student body at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. At UT Austin and UCLA, about 1 in 5 students are Latino.

Despite the attention-grabbing headlines about angry parents filing lawsuits on behalf of their whiz kids, the data shows that Asian Americans are seeing their populations steadily increase at some elite campuses.

Thus, we should expand our focus and also study how students are faring in less selective four-year and two-year institutions. WHY? The majority of the 1.5 million students in NH/PI and Asian American communities attend two-year colleges. In California, almost 50% of all Asian Americans and the majority of NH and PI students begin their college journeys at two-year institutions.  In 2015, there were 227,632 Asian, Filipino, and Pacific Islander students enrolled in the 113-school CCC system, making it the largest system of higher education in the U.S. This number rivals the total number (238,000) of undergraduate and graduate students of ALL races in ALL ten campuses of the University of California system.

Thus, community resources and attention should be devoted to all levels and types of institutions of higher education – not just those that make the headlines.