Understanding Asian American and Pacific Islander Students

Note:  This post was co-authored with Thai-Huy Nguyen, Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Robert Teranishi and his research team at New York University just issued the third edition of the CARE (Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education ) report. Teranishi’s report, entitled “The Relevance of Asian American & Pacific Islanders in the College Completion Agenda,” includes rich information on a growing student population. According to the report, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students are contributing substantially to the growth in racial and ethnic diversity on the nation’s campuses (along with Latinos). In fact, college enrollment of AAPI’s is projected to increase by 30 percent by 2019. This projected increase in AAPI’s is skewed, however. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese students account for the majority of the AAPI presence and potential growth in higher education. On the contrary, 51 percent of Vietnamese, 63 percent of Hmong, 65.5 percent of Loation, and nearly 70 percent of Cambodian adults (24+) have not enrolled or completed any postsecondary education. Access to college is a major issue for these groups.

The CARE report dispels many myths about AAPI’s. For example, most people believe that the majority of AAPI’s are enrolled in elite research institutions. While there are significant percentages of AAPI’s at this institutional type, in 2005, 47.3 percent of AAPI’s were enrolled at two-year institutions. Of these students, the average age is 25.3 years old, making these students non-traditional learners. According to the report’s authors, AAPI students who are enrolled at community colleges “carry many ‘risk factors’ that are correlated with lower rates of persistence and completion.” Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students have very high attrition rates, in particular.

In addition to individual students, the CARE report tells us a great deal about Asian American, Native Alaskan, Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI’s), the newest type of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). As of 2011, 52 institutions have received the AANAPISI designation by the federal government, with only 15 of these institutions receiving funding. These 15 institutions educate 1 in 10 AAPI undergraduate students. Although AANAPISI’s are designated based on the percentage of AAPI’s in attendance, these institutions typically offer special services for AAPI’s, such as English-language learner programs and AAPI studies programs. Although only 52 institutions are designated as AANAPISI’s, there are 116 institutions that could potentially qualify to be AANAPISI’s.

A read of the CARE report is essential for college and university administrators and faculty. This research ensures that we are mindful of the differences that exist between AAPI’s and offers advice on how institutions of higher education can provide the best education possible to AAPI students.

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