According to a news item posted in the October 5th Korea Daily, "almost 1 out of 2 Korean-American students attending America's top universities drop out." This news arose from a doctoral dissertation by Samuel S. Kim, presented at Columbia University in late September. His dissertation was based upon a longitudinal study (a study that tracks a group of individuals over a relatively lengthy period of time) of 1400 Korean students enrolled at 14 universities (all the Ivies, Amherst, Duke, Stanford, Georgetown, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis) between 1985 and 2007.
It's hard to take such information at face value. Doesn't this defy logic? Don't most of the students that get into the 'leading universities' graduate at very high levels? After all, does anyone pay $50,000 a year to flunk out? Naturally, it would be nice to see the actual dissertation, which is entitled, "First and Second Generation Conflict in Education of the Asian American Community." Yet, even without access to it, possibly running some basic numbers will give us a sense of the sample Mr. Kim used, and just how he arrived at his findings.
The chart below contains the schools examined in Mr. Kim's dissertation, the total number of students attending each school, each school's reported drop-out rate, the percentage of Asian American students attending each school, the total number of Asian students attending each, and the percent of the sample size each school's Asian student body represents.
College Drop Out Levels at 14 Leading Universities*
Drop Out %
Total # of 'Drop Outs'
% Asian American Students Attending
Asian Total Student #s
% of Sample
*All numbers come from College Navigator
The numbers above were obtained at College Navigator (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/); this is the site for the NCES (National Center for Educational Statistics), a government institution that is an information clearinghouse for all postsecondary institutions that receive Title IV funding from the federal government. That's 1,896 postsecondary institutions: all 14 institutions report their information to the NCES. College Drop Out Levels at 14 Leading Universities*
If you take the Ivy League schools, along with Duke, Stanford, Georgetown, and Amherst, and you total all the students who dropped out prior to completing their degrees in 6 years, it comes to 1,087 or 5.7%. That's the total number of all students, of all races, that dropped out of these schools. If, as Mr. Kim's dissertation seems to imply, 1 out of every 2 Korean American students in these schools dropped out, be assured there would be great consternation among the schools, their administration, their professors, and their admissions office. It's quite unlikely they'd be admitting Korean-Americans, at the rising levels they are, if Korean American student presence on campus simply served to destroy graduation rates (which, by the way, feed into rankings, something most schools do not want to negatively impact.)
Getting back to our review of the numbers, Berkeley and UC Davis have 1,658 drop-outs between them. UC Davis alone has more students drop out than all the other schools combined, excluding Berkeley. In all likelihood there's a very good chance that Mr. Kim took at least half his sample from Davis and Berkeley, when he arrived at his figure of half the Koreans dropping out of 'leading universities.'
There are three kinds of lies, according to Mark Twain: "lies, damn lies, and statistics." Numbers certainly don't assure us of anything. They, however, might surely indicate when things have been presented in a less than straightforward manner. It's always good to question, even doctoral dissertations. After all, isn't that why we go to college in the first place?