us education system

Who’s taking college spots from top Asian Americans? Not other racial minorities but rich whites

Colleges have another major affirmative action effort – lower admission standards for applicants whose parents are alumni or major donors.

More than a decade ago, I chatted with Asian-American seniors at Hunter College High School in New York City about their college admission prospects. One young woman told me she had scored 1530 out of a maximum 1600 on the SAT. When I congratulated her, she said that her score was what she and her friends called “an Asian fail.” She predicted it wouldn’t be enough to get into her dream school, Yale. She was right. The next day, she learned that Yale had rejected her.

I remembered our conversation when I read last week that the Justice Department plans to investigate a complaint by Asian-American organisations that Harvard discriminates against them by giving an edge to other racial minorities. My immediate response was: right victim, wrong culprit.

Asian Americans are indeed treated unfairly in admissions, but affirmative action is a convenient scapegoat for those who seek to pit minority groups against each other. A more logical target would be “the preferences of privilege,” as I called them in my 2006 book, The Price of Admission.

These policies elevate predominantly white, affluent applicants: children of alumni, big non-alumni donors, politicians and celebrities, as well as recruited athletes in upper-crust sports like golf, sailing, horseback riding, crew and even, at some colleges, polo. The number of whites enjoying the preferences of privilege, I concluded, outweighed the number of minorities aided by affirmative action.

By giving more slots to already advantaged students, these preferences displace more deserving candidates from other backgrounds, including Asian Americans and middle-class whites, without achieving the goals of affirmative action, such as diversity and redressing historical discrimination.

‘The new Jews’

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has become the poster boy for this practice. As I reported in my book, Harvard accepted Kushner soon after receiving a $2.5 million pledge from his father, a real-estate developer and New York University graduate. While sources at Kushner’s high school told me that he wasn’t near the top of his class and didn’t always take the most challenging courses, a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies has described him as “an excellent student” and denied that his father’s gift was intended to improve his chances of admission.

In my book, I described Asian Americans as “the new Jews.” Like Jews before the 1960s, whose Ivy League enrollment was restricted by quotas, Asian Americans are over-represented at selective colleges compared with their US population, but are shortchanged relative to their academic performance.

Much as Ivy League administrators once justified anti-Jewish policies with ethnic stereotypes, so Asian Americans, I found, were typecast in college admissions offices. Asked why the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had turned down one high-achieving Korean-American youth, the then dean of admissions told me it was possible that he “looked like a thousand other Korean kids with the exact same profile of grades and activities and temperament. My guess is that he just wasn’t involved or interesting enough to surface to the top.”

My research indicated that college admissions officers tended to compare stellar Asian-American candidates to each other, rather than to the rest of the applicant pool. The result at some universities amounted to an informal quota system, with the percentage of Asian Americans admitted as freshman changing little from year to year. The proportion at Harvard, which long hovered below 20%, reached 22.2% for the class of 2021. Who takes the places of the spurned Asians? As far back as 1990, an investigation of Harvard by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights pointed to recipients of so-called “white affirmative action.”

Harvard admitted Asian-American applicants “at a significantly lower rate than white applicants” despite their “slightly stronger” SAT scores and grades, it found. Accounting for most of the admissions gap was “preference given to legacies and recruited athletes – groups that are predominantly white.” In that era, Asian Americans composed 15.7% of all Harvard applicants but only 3.5% of alumni children and 4.1% of recruited athletes.

Small club

Unlike affirmative action, the preferences of privilege aren’t inherently race-based, which makes it tougher to challenge them legally.

When I was researching my book in the early 2000s, several admissions deans assured me that the ranks of alumni children would become more diverse in future as the children of minorities who gained access to elite universities with the advent of affirmative action attained college age. But that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Based on a Harvard Crimson survey of freshmen entering Harvard in 2016, legacies remain a largely homogeneous group. They made up 15% of the student body, but 26.6% of those whose parents had a combined annual income of $500,000 or more. Of freshmen who identified themselves as white, 35% said that a family member had gone to Harvard as an undergraduate. Two-thirds of students whose parents had a combined annual income of more than $500,000 said that family members had attended Harvard.

Meanwhile, the practice of giving admissions breaks to children of current or prospective donors has only intensified. With other sources of revenue failing to keep pace with costs – the pace of tuition increases is declining, as is the percentage of alumni who donate to the country’s top 20 schools – universities are more dependent than ever on major givers, and thus under more pressure to accept their children. In 2015 alone, seven individuals made gifts of more than $100 million apiece to higher education, including one bequest.

“Recognising that the market is more competitive and that we’re constrained in our ability to raise prices, we are going to be more dependent on philanthropy,” Donald Heller, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of San Francisco, told me last fall. “That means there’s probably more pressure on admissions offices around legacies and development admits” – applicants recommended by the development (ie, fundraising) office.

In an era of widening economic and social inequity, and of backlash against minority groups, the way to open more slots for outstanding Asian-American applicants is not to ban affirmative action. A better approach for eliminating the “Asian fail” is to curtail preferences for rich whites.

This story was co-published with Bloomberg View.

This article first appeared on ProPublica.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

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Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

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Getting the best from collaborations

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Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

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  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.