April 16, 2007
Written by C.N.
In recent years, the popularity of national college rankings — most notably that from U.S. News & World Report — has increased significantly. Although many colleges are now trying to organize a boycott of the rankings, they are still a prominent part of discussions on which schools to apply to for many students. With that in mind, which racial group tends to place the most importance on these rankings? New data points to Asian American students as the answer:
Preliminary research into the importance of rankings also suggest some “compelling differences” among ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics, says Victor Saenz, co-author of the report, conducted by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program.
For example, he says, students from more affluent families are much more likely to identify rankings as important than are students from less affluent backgrounds.
That’s “especially true” for more affluent black and Hispanic students, he says. But Asian students are more likely to report rankings as very important, regardless of their socioeconomic status, Saenz says.
So what does that ultimately mean? On the one hand, as the authors point out, the more affluent the student, the more likely s/he is to consider the rankings important. Therefore, that should mean that the groups at the top of America’s socioeconomic hierarchy, Whites and Asian Americans, should be the most likely to consider them important.
But as we see, Whites are the least likely to consider the rankings as important. So what does that mean for Asian Americans? There seem to be two potential explanations. The first is that it may mean that Asian American students are more likely to be concerned about status and reputation than other groups. In other words, perhaps Asian students are more vain and preoccupied with symbols of materialistic success, such as the school they attended.
There may be a little truth to that first notion. However, I think the more plausible explanation is related to the reason why Asian Americans are so much more likely to get bachelors and advanced degrees in the first place — to compensate for institutional discrimination.
In other words, my guess is that many Asian American students know consciously or unconsciously that because of American society’s historical legacy of unequal and unjust treatment of all groups of color and their status as a racial minority in American society, they are more likely to encounter individual and institutional barriers toward their educational and career success.
With that in mind, many Asian Americans compensate or try to protect themselves from this potential disadvantage by getting more years of education, a higher degree, or in this case, attending a more prestigious school. In other words, rather than being motivated by an “irrational” desire for status, many Asian Americans may see such rankings as a “rational” strategy to overcome whatever mechanisms of inequality they may face.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Asians Most Influenced by College Rankings" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/04/asians-most-influenced-by-college-rankings/> ().
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