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Asians paying more for Princeton Review ACT prep than other students
Pricing by zip code, company seems to target Asian parents willing to spend to improve odds that may be already unfairly tilted against them. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Asian parents pay more for Princeton Review's ACT preparation courses, a new analysis by Pro Publica finds, even when controlling for income. Asians are almost twice as likely as non-Asians to be offered a higher price for the test preparation service, the study found.

Princeton Review, which uses differential pricing in different ZIP codes, charges as little as $6,600 for the premiere test prep course, or as much as $8,400, depending on where you live.

But it's not based just on income levels.

"The gap remains even for Asians in lower income neighborhoods," Pro Publica found. "Consider a ZIP code in Flushing, a neighborhood in Queens, New York. Asians make up 70.5 percent of the population in this ZIP code. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in the ZIP code, $41,884, is lower than most, yet The Princeton Review customers there are quoted the highest price."

Princeton Review defended its pricing structure in a statement, and the Pro Publica report was careful not to assert that the company is consciously targeting Asians. Rather, it appears to be a result of computer algorithms, which assign prices based on demand in the area.

Pro Publica notes a White House report last year, warning that algorithmic decisions raise the specter of redlining in the digital economy the potential to discriminate against the most vulnerable classes of our society under the guise of neutral algorithms.

For Asian parents and students, it's an increasingly common complaint.

Earlier this summer a group of 60 advocacy groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that Harvard was discriminating in its admissions policies. That complaint was rejected, Bloomberg Business reported, but only because a lawsuit making a similar claims was already in the federal courts.

"The coalition said Asian-American students are held to higher standards because of their race and that students with almost perfect entrance-exam scores, top 1 percent grade-point averages, academic awards and leadership positions were more likely to be rejected than similar applicants of other races," Bloomberg reported.

Out in California, where over 36 percent of entering freshman at University of California campuses are Asian, getting into an elite school can mean downplaying your ethnicity, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year.

The Times interviewed Crystal Zell, who works for an agency that coaches high school students through the college admissions process.

"If a student wants to be an engineer," the Times reports, "she makes sure to show other options. She sends affluent students to volunteer in poor neighborhoods. Branch out from tennis, or chess club, or taekwondo, she tells them. Learn a language other than Chinese. Avoid writing your essay about your parents' journey to America."
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