Princeton's Admissions Policies Investigated

The Department of Education broadens its probe of an applicant's claim of discrimination.

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Do elite universities hold Asian-Americans to higher standards than other applicants? Do Ivy League schools set caps on the number of high-achieving minority students admitted, comparing Asian-American applicants against one another instead of the rest of the applicant pool? These questions were recently recharged by word that the Education Department will broaden its investigation of Princeton University's admissions process, a probe that began after an applicant filed a federal civil rights complaint saying the school spurned him because of his race.

Jian Li, 19, was rejected from Princeton and four other elite institutions in 2006 even though he had perfect SAT scores and graduated in the top 1 percent of his high school class. Li, who was enrolled at Yale and now studies at Harvard, cited a white classmate from his high school who was admitted to Princeton with lower test scores and grades as alleged proof of racial discrimination.

Princeton says it did not discriminate against Li, stating that for the year he applied, 14 percent of enrolled students were of Asian descent and that the school admitted only half of the applicants with perfect SAT scores. The Education Department initially rejected Li's claim because of lack of evidence, but has just announced it will launch a broader "compliance review" to see if Princeton complies with federal civil rights regulations in its policies. A spokesman for the Education Department told the Wall Street Journal the inquiry "in no way implies" the agency has made up its mind on the complaint's legitimacy. Similar investigations were conducted in the early 1990s at University of California-Berkeley, which dropped a policy that limited enrollment of students with Asian ethnicities, and Harvard University, which wasn't charged with any violations.

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