Getting accepted by an Ivy League college can seem like a crapshoot, but a coalition of Asian-American organizations alleges that some elite schools are using a discriminatory process that hurts Asian-American applicants.
The complaint, filed by the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE), claims that Brown, Yale and Dartmouth are relying on quotas to keep enrollment of Asian Americans to about 16 percent of their student bodies. "The situation is eerily reminiscent of the quota system the Ivy League schools maintained for Jews during the 1920s," the complaint states.
America's population of Asian Americans between ages 18 and 21 -- the prime college years -- has jumped from about 3 percent in 1990 to 5.1 percent in 2011, but enrollment of Asian-American students at elite colleges peaked in 1993 and then started declining, according to the complaint.
The reason, the group claims, is the use of racial quotas that are shutting out qualified Asian-American students. AACE President Yukong Zhao said the practice runs contrary to American values such as equal opportunity, while putting undue pressure on young Asian-American students.
"If this is merit-based, we should eliminate racial quotas," Zhao said. "America is a country with indispensable principles like democracy and equal opportunity. Asian Americans have been attracted to this land primarily on these principles. Violating these principles undermines it."
For Asian-American students who aren't admitted to elite schools because of the alleged racial bias, Zhao said, it represents "lost career potential."
In a statement, Dartmouth said it evaluates all applicants, including Asian-American students, on the same criteria. Yale said it uses a "holistic review" and that "applicants are not disadvantaged in the admissions process on the basis of race or national origin." Brown didn't immediately return a request for comment.
"Dartmouth aspires to expand the horizons of students from different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives. Our admissions process considers the whole person and seeks to create an intellectually vibrant and engaged campus community," Dartmouth said.
The complaint isn't the first to allege that Asian-American students are shut out of elite colleges. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education dismissed a complaint against Harvard that alleged bias against this group because of a similar federal court case.
The goal with this complaint is to spark a "vigorous and objective investigation," Zhao said. He added that he'd like to see a policy change at the Department of Education that would ban colleges from using higher standards for Asian-American students.
These students tend to score higher on the SATs than those who come from other racial backgrounds. The average combined SAT score for college-bound Asian Americans was 1645 in 2013, compared with 1576 for whites, 1278 for blacks and 1,355 for Mexican or Mexican-American students, according to the College Board.
"An Asian-American student has to score 140 point 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," the complaint alleges. "Put another way, if a top private university such as Yale accepts white students with an SAT mean score of 2160, its mean the score for accepting Asian-American students would be 2300 -- 140 additional points."
Zhao added, "It's extremely stressful for Asian-American kids."