A complaint from an Indian-American student who was near the top of his high school class but was rejected by both Harvard and Princeton universities has triggered an investigation by the US Education Department.
The unnamed Indian-American student in California complained that the two universities discriminate against Asian-Americans in undergraduate admissions.
According to the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights the complaint was received on August 22 and the allegations were "accepted for investigation" on January 11. The complaint alleges "discrimination against Asian-Americans on the basis of race/national origin with respect to the university's admissions process."
A Harvard spokesman was cited as saying the institution does not discriminate. Asian-Americans make up 16 per cent of Harvard undergraduates.
Princeton in New Jersey also asserted that it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race or national origin and will provide the government with the requested information.
The proportion of Asian-Americans among Princeton undergraduates increased to 17.7 percent this year from 14.1 percent in 2007- 2008, a spokesman was quoted as saying.
The rise reflects the tendency of incoming classes to "fluctuate based on the assessment of individual applications" rather than the impact of the federal review, he said.
There are 14.7 million Americans of Asian descent only, plus 2.6 million who are multiracial including Asian, according to the 2010 US census.