I wrote this for Quora:
There’s two separate groups here. You can even say three groups.
International students aren’t all good at college, but the ones from poorer countries are likely to be excellent. The reason is simple: nobody who sucks at school would go overseas to a far more expensive place to attend school.
Imagine if you were a C or D student at a community college. Would you spend an extra $30,000 a year to attend school 10 miles away?
Of course not. That’s so stupid, even a D student would know the answer.
Asian-American students aren’t all good at college either, but there’s a bunch of immigration laws and refugee policies that have significantly skewed the population.
Since 1965, when Asian immigration was re-legalized, the law has basically allowed people with in-demand skills, and college degrees, to immigrate somewhat freely.
On the other hand, average high school or middle school graduates (note that not all countries had mandatory, free high school) who just did regular jobs could not immigrate. They could become undocumented immigrants, and face deportation, but they could not enter legally. The only exceptions were marriage, and being a member of a family wealthy enough to support this extra person.
So, this Asian-American population is filtered by the immigration law to be highly educated, and to have money, or more importantly, to have a drive to make money. That means going to college with the intent of making more money.
The pre-1965 Asian American population has been a declining fraction of the demographic since the 1980s, when it was around half the population.
Pre-1965 immigration was from the period of 1849 to 1924, with the main surges in the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. These people were mostly Chinese and Japanese. Other groups represented were Filipinos, Koreans, and Sikh Indians from Punjab.
They largely came over as contract labor to build railroads, work on farms, and functioned as a West Coast substitution for Black slave labor. Like Black people, they faced racism, lynching, mass murder, having their communities destroyed, and labor wage oppression. They were also completely disallowed from immigrating, simply for being of a specific ethnic group. Additionally, citizenship was denied to Asian people, unless they were born in the US.
This population has a different outlook, and also suffered underachievement in college, if they were allowed to attend college. (Note that college was not widely open nonwhite races until the 1940s — discrimination was the norm.)
During the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement gained media attention and political power. The movement had existed since before the Civil War, but grew, particularly with the Great Migration and the urbanization of Black Americans.
Today, we tend to look at the CRM as both progressive and inevitable, but back when it happened, the American political system was largely white supremacist and racist. The interpretation of the Constitution was often racist.
Political forces, including the media, sought to minimize, denigrate, and attack the CRM and Black Americans seeking social equality.
One way they did this was to pit Asians against Black people. They held up Asian Americans as a “Model Minority”, who were quiet, and did well in school.
Note, at this time, Asian people were often not allowed to live in the Whites-Only suburban communities that had formed across the US. This was particularly true on the West Coast. So, Asian American people — who had been denied the right to immigrate — generally lived in the oppressed ghetto communities with Black Americans, Mexican Americans, and other non-white people. It was only in the mid 20th century that Jews, Eastern and Southern Europeans were beginning to be allowed to buy in these Whites-Only communities.
So the media had articles arguing that Black Americans shouldn’t be activists, but should be quiet and studious like the Model Minority Asians, who also lived in the ghetto.
It was a divide-and-conquer strategy, and intended to destroy Civil Rights. This question, partly, plays into this racist strategy.