The Supreme Court’s recent Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard decision striking down racial preferences at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, exposed how the admission process has become politicized. But will the Court’s decision end the role of politics in college admissions? The answer is “no” even if Affirmative Action vanishes. Affirmative Action is only one of many political factors influencing college acceptances and rejections. Equally important, though rarely acknowledged: the federal government’s immigration policies—since they determine the overall pool of college applicants, and this pool can be just as important as the applicant’s record or racial/ethnic identity.
The quality of the competition dictates how applicants play the college admissions “game.” Entering Harvard would be far easier if, for example, the deteriorating schools dumbed down most of your fellow applicants. Within a weak field, middling SAT scores and a so-so class rank would suffice. If the opposite were true, however, admission might require hiring tutors and working harder. So the stiffer the competition, the more effort necessary. At some point, even the very bright might skip applying to an Ivy League school as too much of a long shot.
The applicant pool has special significance for white applicants who face tough competition from groups who scarcely entered college back in the 1970s, namely blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Until quite recently, whites almost entirely competed with other whites. In fact, the previous pool of rivals was even smaller for men since they often competed exclusively against other males to enter male-only schools, while females often only competed against females to enter female-only schools.
The expansion of the applicant pool, absent a corresponding increase in slots, is highly consequential. While brains were always necessary to be admitted to a top school, a smaller pool of brainy rivals also increased the number of “safe” school slots. You took their shot at Harvard, but simultaneously hedged bets by applying to Boston University. Back then it was unthinkable for parents to pay huge sums to “counselors” to get Junior admitted to a second-tier school like the University of Southern California.
Matters changed with the 1965 Immigration Act that opened the door for millions of Asians. The impact of this influx has been enormous. In 1960, for example, there were less than a million Asians in America but by 2000, this figure had reached 11.9 million, 22.4 million in 2019. The predicted number will reach 34.8 million by 2040.
Key facts about Asian Americans, a diverse and growing population, by Abby Budiman and Neil G. Ruiz, Pew Research, April 29, 2021
These Asian immigrant children have done exceptionally well in American schools. Recall that Asian students were the ones who challenged Harvard’s race-based admissions policy, with Harvard openly admitting that absent Affirmative Action, Harvard would become predominantly Asian.
Derb: If Harvard were to select from just the top one-tenth of applicants—which is in fact what Harvard most likely would do—then Asian Americans would be 51.52 percent, Whites 36.54, Hispanics 2.69 percent, blacks 0.76 percent. https://t.co/AzKVxjG5cD— VDARE (@vdare) July 1, 2023
The numbers are astounding despite efforts to keep them out of sight. At the merit-only Cal Tech, the proportion of Asians is 39.9%, 35,1% at University of California, Berkeley, 27.6% at MIT and at the University of Texas, Austin 21.9% and so on. This domination would undoubtedly be even greater if one disregarded fluff majors such as Gender Studies.
At the other end of the intellectual ability continuum are blacks and Hispanics who owe their campus presence to Affirmative Action, not immigration or brain power. While this black influx has ebbed and flowed over time, blacks have become a sizeable presence on campus [Black Collegiate Education in the United States (1828-2019), by Christina Hudson, BlackPast.org, January 25, 2022]. The heavy thumb on the scale in their favor is particularly noteworthy at Ivy League schools. Blacks are typically around 7 % to 8% of all undergraduate students [The Demographics of the Ivy League, CollegeVine.com, July 9, 2023]. (However, these proportions still fall below blacks’ overall proportion in the population.)
Meanwhile, the Hispanic presence in the U.S. population has dramatically risen from 9.6 million in 1970 to 62.5 million in 2021 thanks to both legal and illegal immigration. This has brought a corresponding increase in college enrollment from 1.5 million in 2000 to 3.8 million in 2019 [Hispanic enrollment reaches new high at four-year colleges in the U.S., but affordability remains an obstacle, by Lauren Maura, Pew Research, October 7, 2022].
Like African-Americans, Hispanics now even have a sizeable presence at Ivy League schools, averaging between 10% and 16% of all undergraduates—well below their population percentages, but still notable.
Put concretely, a recent Yale undergraduate class was about 37% white, so if you removed all Asians (24%), all Hispanics (15%), all African Americans (8%) and the tiny miscellaneous racial/ethnic admits, the white percentage would almost triple. Moreover, in 2022 the number of females slightly outnumbered males (3160 men, 3315 women), so if Yale restored its earlier male-only rule—its abolition was not government-mandated but nevertheless reflected public pressure—white males would double their odds of admission.
The endlessly expanding pool of applicants has, naturally, shrunk the acceptance rates at top schools. Yale, for example, in 2007 accepted 11.4% of applicants and by 2017 the percentage had fallen to 6.7%. In 2022, it was 6.3%[Ivy League Acceptance Rates and Admissions Statistics, IvyCoach.com, 2023].
Particularly revealing is that the same pattern holds at very good but non-elite schools that were once the “safe” schools for those rejected by the Ivy League. New York University, for instance, has gone from a 36.7% acceptance rate in 2007 to 12.8% in 2021.
Prior to the Fair Admissions decision, native-born whites were trapped by a pincer movement. On the one side: less academically qualified blacks and Hispanics who benefited from Affirmative Action. On the other side: Asians, typically from immigrant families, who outperformed whites academically.
White applicants thus experienced two distinct biological disadvantages. First, their race allowed them to be passed over in favor of less qualified blacks and Hispanics. Second, they simultaneously were passed over in favor of smarter Asians.
In both instances, the source of this twin genetic liability was political.
But will the Court’s ban on racial preferences “free up” space for white applicants? Conceivably, but as per Professor Peter Arcidiacono’s analysis, probably not, since most of these new beneficiaries will be Asian males.
More generally, however, there will be an uptick in white females to replace blacks and Hispanics. This change is just an ongoing trend in which the proportion of males on campus has been dropping. Schools regularly demonize men for “toxic masculinity” [The war on men continues on campus, The College Fix, July 7, 2023]. So college-age men shun higher education and become an endangered species on campus.
Affirmative Action may wither away, but immigration policy will continue to shape college admissions. As a veteran academic, I have argued elsewhere that American college students are growing dumber—see my American Students—Dumber and More Woke, American Thinker, February 4, 2023. My prediction: at some point, desperate schools will target smart youngsters from abroad for admission to U.S. colleges.
Importing intellectual talent has long existed for graduate students, particularly in the hard sciences. The same policy could easily be extended for undergraduate admissions. In fact, 31% of black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean now have a B.A. or higher [One-in-Ten Black People Living in the U.S. Are Immigrants, Pew Research, January 20, 2022]. Higher education is directly or indirectly subsidized in many ways, so the American taxpayer will now help educate the world.
Result: American universities may soon be peculiar institutions, with the hard sciences and engineering disproportionately dominated by Asians, Indians, and Eastern European males, while the “soft” side will be overwhelmingly female, probably disproportionately feminists.
Many campuses will thus resemble collections of apartheid-like ethnic/gender enclaves.
One can only imagine how the mandarin social engineers will try to fix this alleged imbalance.
Robert Weissberg [email him] is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, University of Illinois, Urbana and formerly Adjunct Professor of Politics (Graduate), New York University. He is author of Bad Students, Not Bad Schools (for Steve Sailer’s review, click here). His Unz.com archive is here; his American Thinker archive here.