AERA Publishes UCLA Research on Asian American Students Who Are Not Admitted to Their First-Choice Institution

HEOC alumnus Mike Hoa Nguyen serves as PI on study debunking claims of negative consequences upon students’ college experience.

A new study led by UCLA Education alumnus Mike Hoa Nguyen (’19, Ph.D., Higher Education and Organizational Change) reveals evidence that contradicts claims in legal complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice arguing that Asian American students face negative consequences while in college as a result of not being admitted to and not attending their first-choice institution. The findings of this study were published this month in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

“Although college choice is of vast importance for many students, including Asian Americans, our study suggests that simply relying on rankings and perceived prestige at elite universities to determine one’s first-choice schools might be a disservice to students,” Nguyen said. “It is what students do in college, rather than the level of institutional prestige alone, that most determines educational outcomes.”

Complaints filed in 2017 by the Coalition of Asian American Associations (CAAA) and the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) cited several negative consequences for Asian American students who did not attend their first-choice institution, including reduced time spent on leadership, public service, and co-curricular activities; low satisfaction in their academic institutions; a negative attitude toward academics and lower academic achievement; a lack of self-confidence and assertiveness; and negative racial interactions. These complaints led to formal investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice into the race-conscious admissions practices of Harvard and Yale universities. The Justice Department issued its findings on the Yale investigation on August 13; its investigation of Harvard is still ongoing. 

The researchers assessed 27 student outcomes across six general categories, including academic performance and perception of academic abilities; satisfaction with college; self-confidence and self-esteem; level of student involvement; willingness and ability to contribute to society; and diversity of racial interactions. 

“We found that only small differences, if any, exist between the self-reported outcomes of Asian American students who were admitted to and attending their first-choice university and those students who were not,” said Nguyen, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Denver.

Nguyen and his colleagues found no difference between the two groups of students on 23 of the 27 outcome measures. The students examined reported higher levels of involvement in student clubs or groups than their peers. In regard to academic performance and perception of abilities, the only marked difference between the two groups of students was that those who attended their first-choice institution spent more time on schoolwork. 

The two groups reported similar levels of academic performance and perception of their academic ability. There were no differences found between the two groups of students in regard to satisfaction with coursework or in racial interactions, although students at their first-choice institution reported fewer negative experiences. Both groups showed no differences in self-confidence or self-esteem or in their willingness and ability to contribute to society. Students at their first-choice institution did report higher overall satisfaction with the college experience than their peers. 

“The bottom line is that our findings reject the claims that Asian American students face negative consequences if they are not accepted by and do not attend their first-choice college,” said Nguyen. “Our study shows that the claims are inconsistent and inaccurate.”

Nguyen’s coauthors include Connie Y. Chang (’20, Ph.D., HEOC); Victoria Kim and Annie Le, doctoral candidates in the UCLA Department of Education; Rose Ann E. Gutierrez, a doctoral student in the UCLA Department of Education; Robert T. Teranishi, UCLA professor of education and the Morgan and Helen Chu Endowed Chair in Asian American Studies; and Denis Dumas, assistant professor of research methods and statistics at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education.

Nguyen noted that the study’s findings support prior research that emphasizes the benefits of Asian American students attending college in general, even if it is not at a first-choice institution. 

“It is important to note that college choice and admission outcomes are not the only factor contributing to students’ college satisfaction,” he said. “Prior research indicates that feeling welcome and valued, instructional effectiveness, racial identity, and faculty and student interactions all impact college satisfaction.”

To read the full open access article in AERA’s Educational Researcher, visit this link.

Photo by Tien Nguyen