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Former Penn official: College admissions biased against Asian Americans

“Tags” placed on prospective University of Pennsylvania students during “holistic admissions” application reviews discriminate against Asian Americans getting into the Ivy League school, according to former Penn Dean of Admissions Sara Harberson.

"Tags" placed on prospective students during "holistic admissions" application reviews discriminate against Asian Americans getting into Ivy League schools, according to former University of Pennsylvania Dean of Admissions Sara Harberson.

"Holistic admissions can allow for a gray zone of bias at elite institutions, working against a group such as Asian Americans that excels in the black-and-white world of academic achievement," Harberson wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

Usually, she said, universities don't rely strictly on on-paper credentials such as test scores and GPAs during the admissions process. Other factors considered include talents, writing ability and extracurricular involvement. This admissions technique is called "holistic admissions." However, factors completely out of the students' control are also taken into consideration during admission. These factors are called "tags."

"A tag is the proverbial golden ticket for a student applying to an elite institution," Harberson wrote. Potential athletes, children of alumni, well-connected students, and children of donors or potential donors all receive tags in favor of being admitted into the university.

Comparatively speaking, ranked Penn 40th in a list of the colleges with the highest percentage of Asian students. The list claims Penn's Asian student population is roughly 20 percent but doesn't differentiate between Asian and Asian American, meaning the student population listed may include Asian students from other countries.

A May 2015 story from The Daily Pennsylvanian stated that data from Fall 2013 showed almost 19 percent of Penn undergraduates were Asian American or Pacific Islander. Drexel University's website lists that the school's incoming 2014 undergraduate population was 17.2 percent Asian. Peterson's reports that the University of Sciences' undergraduate population is about 38 percent Asian. For the 2014-15 year, Temple University's undergraduate population is 10.2 percent Asian, again, not distinguishing between Asian and Asian American.

Further than holistic admissions and tags, Harberson, who was also the former dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin & Marshall College, said that "racial stereotyping is alive and well," despite the eradication of so-called racial quotas. The Daily Pennsylvanian, too, said that according to a Princeton University study, applying as an African American and Hispanic boosted a prospective student's advantage to an equivalent of 230 and 185 SAT points respectively. However, applying as an Asian American lowered a prospective student's score by an equivalent of 50 SAT points.

Despite the rising Asian American population, Asian American Ivy League enrollment has remained stagnant.

To rectify the racially based enrollment biases, Harberson suggests more transparency about holistic admissions and tags, an increased demographic transparency, and a racial breakdown of high school GPAs and test scores.