As a group, Asian American and Pacific islander students often perform at the top of all student groups on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other assessments, yet the perception of these students as a "model minority" has led to less nuanced research on one of the most diverse racial groups in America, according to leaders of the new Asian American Pacific Islander Association of Colleges and Universities.
"Research has largely failed to adequately represent the needs, success, and challenges of AAPI students," said Neil Horikoshi, the president and executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund. "There's simply a dearth of knowledge about the populations of API students, the trajectory of their academic achievement and their college success."
At a briefing this morning, Robert Teranishi, the principal investigator for the New York City-based National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education, released preliminary findings from a report due out later this summer, "Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the College Completion Agenda, and America's Commitment to Equity and Diversity," which analyzes American Community Survey data on these students, particularly their barriers to college enrollment and completion.
The report finds that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders increased at a faster rate in the past decade than any other major racial group, 43 percent, to 18.5 million people in 2010. However, the group remains one of the most diverse in the country, including 48 different ethnic groups who speak 380 different languages, Mr. Teranishi said, and many of these students do struggle academically but can be overlooked in racial averages.
Mark Mitsui, the president of the North Seattle Community College, said educators and researchers often buy into a "model-minority myth that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not struggling and that they all go on to Ivy League Colleges," but data shows achievement levels differ dramatically among students from different backgrounds.
For example, more than four of five students from East Asian backgrounds, such as China, Japan and Korea, or South Asian backgrounds such as India and Pakistan earn at least a bachelor's degree, 51 percent of Pacific Islander students and 41 percent of students from Southeast Asian backgrounds, such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, do not go on to higher education.
"Half of Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students leave college without a degree, three to five times higher than East and South Asians," Mr. Teranishi said. "We need to target these populations in the institutions they attend."