Higher Education, Workforce Development, and the AAPI Community

The Distribution of AAPIs in Workforce Sectors

AAPIs in the workforce are generally perceived as holding positions in highly-skilled professions, which can lead policymakers to reject that "problems" exist for AAPIs relative to workforce participation. Because policy has not been attentive to the needs of AAPIs in the workforce, the relative position of the population in different occupational sectors has also gone unnoticed. For example, as the U.S. struggles to climb out of the most severe recession since World War II, the challenges faced by minority-owned businesses have been particularly difficult for the AAPI community.

This is because AAPIs have the highest rate of business ownership among all minority groups, and are the most likely to use personal family savings to start their businesses in the first place. Policymakers need to be responsive to the AAPI community when providing support for minority-owned businesses.

Figure 3: Distribution of U.S. Public School Students and Teachers by Race, 2006

Source: Common Core of Data, U.S. Department of Education


Policymakers can also focus their efforts in key areas of the workforce where AAPIs are underrepresented. A case in point is the underrepresentation of AAPIs in the field of education. For many years, research has pointed to the importance of a diverse teaching workforce, particularly in urban communities with high proportions of racial and ethnic minority students. Some studies posit that students of color respond well to the presence of mentors who look like them, who understand their background and culture, and who have high expectations for their success.10 While laudable and significant efforts have been made to diversify the teaching workforce by encouraging the recruitment, training, placement, and support of teachers of color, the lack of representation of AAPI teachers is currently not positioned as an issue that requires attention or resources. While AAPIs comprise 3.9 percent of the total enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, they represent only 1.5 percent of the teachers (Figure 3).

Compared to other teachers, AAPI educators also have the lowest average number of years in their positions, are the most likely to leave the field within three years, and are the least likely to pursue mobility within the field to accept administrative positions.11 These trends point to the need to not only recruit more AAPI teachers, but also to retain, encourage, and support their pursuit of promotion within the field.

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10 - Darling-Hammond, The Flat World and Education.

11 - R. Teranishi, Asians in the Ivory Tower: Contesting the Boundaries of Race in American Higher Education
(New York: Teachers College Press, 2010).