Deconstructing AAPI Educational Attainment

One of the most misunderstood trends in AAPI educational achievement is educational attainment. With the number of AAPI college students at its highest, and growing at one of the fastest rates of any major racial population in American higher education, it is important to understand the experiences and outcomes of this unique student population.22 Among broader trends in AAPI college participation, a key issue is the varying rates that occur among each ethnic group.

Access to Higher Education Differs Among AAPIs

While much of the college completion agenda is focused on increasing the persistence and graduation rates of existing college students, it is important to recognize that access to higher education remains a significant challenge for many marginalized and vulnerable populations in America. Trends in educational attainment for a number of AAPI sub-groups are representative of this problem. Consider that 51.1 percent of Vietnamese, 63.2 percent of Hmong, 65.5 percent of Laotian, and 65.8 percent of Cambodian adults (25 years or older) have not enrolled in or complet ed any postsecondary education (Figure 5). Similar trends Pakistani can be found among Pacific Islanders with 49.3 percent of Korean Native Hawaiian, 53.0 percent of Guamanian, 56.8 percent of Samoan, and 57.9 percent of Tongan adults who have not enrolled in any form of postsecondary education.

For many AAPI students, barriers to education begin at an early age creating a poor pipeline to higher education. There is a large sector of the AAPI population that continues to experience very low rates of attainment at the elementary and secondary level. Consider that 34.3 percent of Laotian, 38.5 percent of Cambodian, and 39.6 percent of Hmong adults do not even have a high school diploma or equivalent.23 In the Hmong community, nearly a third of the adults have less than a fourth grade education. These data demonstrate that access is a critical issue for many AAPI sub-populations and a factor that must be addressed in the broader college completion agenda.


Trends in AAPI College Enrollment by Higher Education Sector

AAPI students that enroll in college choose to attend a broad range of postsecondary institutions, which presents a complex set of challenges for higher education.24 Past research by the CARE Project, for example, found that the largest sector of AAPI college enrollment, at 47.3 percent, was in the community college sector in 200525 (Figure 6). While AAPIs made up less than 5 percent of the national population in 2007, they represented nearly 7 percent of all community college students. These trends are projected to continue with AAPI enrollment at community colleges outpacing all other sectors of higher education. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, AAPI community college enrollment increased by 73.3 percent, compared to an increase of 42.2 percent in public four-year institutions.26

AAPI community college students are also characteristically different from AAPI students in four-year institutions. Analysis of recent data on AAPI community college students shows that 62.9 percent enrolled as part-time students and 31.7 percent delayed matriculation by two years or more.27 With an average age of 27.3 years, AAPI community college students also tended to be older than their AAPI counterparts at four-year institutions. These differences suggest that AAPIs at community colleges, compared to AAPI students at four-year institutions, were more likely to fit the characteristics of “non-traditional” students.

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22 - R. Teranishi, Asians in the Ivory Tower.

23 - Ibid.

24 - National Commission on AAPI Research in Education, Federal Policy Priorities and the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community (New York: Author, 2010).

25 - Ibid.

26 - Ibid.

27 - U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003–04 Beginning Postsecond- ary Students Longitudinal Study, First Follow-Up (BPS:04/06).