UCLA Community College Review: The Overlooked Minority: Asian Pacific American Students at Community Colleges
Lew, Jonathan W., Chang, June C., Wang, Winnie W., Community College Review
This review examines the impact of Asian Pacific American (APA) students' characteristics and experiences on their academic achievement. The article begins by describing the demographics and diversity of this group, and it explores the challenges posed by APA community college students' background characteristics and influences, the model minority stereotype, and identity development. The limited research that focuses on APA students at community colleges is summaried, as well as broader research on APA students in general. The article concludes with implications for practice and recommendations for future research.
Over the last several decades, Asian Pacific American (APA) students have captured public and scholarly attention for their increasingly visible presence in the halls of academia. Most of that attention has been focused on either supporting or debunking the widespread portrayal of Asian Pacific Americans as a model minority--hard-working and academically successful students who attend the most selective colleges and universities in the country. However, in the news media and in higher education research, a significant subset of the APA student population has largely been overlooked: APA students at the nation's community colleges. Over 40% of all APA students enrolled in higher education in the United States attend community colleges, and in 2000-2001, Asian Pacific Americans made up 15% of all students enrolled in two-year institutions (Harvey, 2003).
The community college APA student population is a sizable force nationally and continues to grow. From 1980 to 2000, APA enrollment at two-year institutions nationwide increased 224%, from approximately 124,000 to 402,000 students (Harvey, 2003). This mirrored trends in APA student enrollment in higher education overall, which more than tripled in the same time period. The number of associate degrees conferred upon APAs grew 229% in those two decades, a larger increase than for any other racial group. In California, which has the largest APA population of any state, the proportion of APA students in community colleges more than doubled between the years of 1980 and 2000 (Wassmer, Moore, & Shulock, 2003).
As these figures indicate, APA students at community colleges are a growing population that can no longer be ignored. Therefore, this review will examine the characteristics and experiences of APA students at two-year institutions, highlighting the heterogeneity of the population in relation to such factors as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and immigrant background. We first describe in more detail the demographics and diversity of this group. We then identify and summarize the research that specifically focuses on APA students at community colleges. However, due to the scarcity of this scholarship, we must look to the broader literature on APA students in higher education in order to highlight the various challenges that APA students face, although we point out the unique characteristics that differentiate APA students at two-year colleges from those at four-year institutions. In order to address the needs of this overlooked minority, this article concludes with implications for practice and recommendations for future research.
Demographics and Diversity of APA Students
Although the term Asian Pacific Americans, or APAs, is frequently used, it is difficult to generalize about the group as a whole because of its diversity and complexity. The term has become the most common racial (or pan-ethnic) designation to encompass the wide array of ethnic groups that trace their ancestral roots to the continent of Asia or the islands of the Pacific Ocean. The exact boundaries of the term are still debated, causing the definition at times to be inconsistent, situational, and political (Hune & Chan, 1997). In addition, APAs can be multi-ethnic or multiracial, variables the U.S. Census only began to track in 2000.
The U.S. Census Bureau defines "Asian" as those individuals who have origins in "the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent" (Barnes & Bennett, 2002, p. 1). The 2000 census counts 25 Asian groups, including Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Japanese, Pakistani, Vietnamese, and an "Other Asian, not specified" category. There are 11.9 million Asians (including those who reported Asian and one or more other races) in the United States, and they make up 4.2% of the U.S. population. Chinese are the largest group, followed by Filipinos and Asian Indians. The census also counts 24 different Pacific Islander groups, including Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Fijian, and Samoan, which together comprise 0.3% of the U.S. population (Grieco, 2001).
Asian Pacific Americans differ from each other not only in ethnicity, but also in socioeconomic status, language, culture, politics, religion, immigrant status, generation in the United States, educational background, and so forth. Hune (2002), for example, notes changes in the APA population that have accompanied the waves of immigration from the 18th century to today. The earliest immigrants from China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and India generally came as low-wage laborers and faced discrimination, exploitation, and severe immigration restrictions. In contrast, those who have immigrated since the 1965 Immigration Act are a much more diverse population, ranging from educated professionals from all over Asia, to Southeast Asian refugees fleeing the effects of the Vietnam War (Hune, 2002). Furthermore, within the same ethnic groupings, there exist noteworthy differences between those who were born and raised in the United States and those who immigrated as adults. These differences affect an individual's ethnic and national identity, available resources, and opportunities for education and a career.
Data on APAs are often presented in the aggregate because of small sample sizes or for the sake of convenience. Yet as this article reveals, aggregation of APAs conceals important distinctions between groups and can result in an oversimplified portrayal of APAs as a homogenous group (Hune, 2002; Hune & Chan, 1997; Liang, Ting, & Teraguchi, 2001). Hune and Chan recommend disaggregating APA data by ethnic group and presenting it alongside aggregate summary data. We agree; the diversity of backgrounds in the APA population necessitates disaggregation of groups in order better to understand and address the needs of all students.
Studies on APA Students at Community Colleges
Research that focuses specifically on APA students at community colleges is quite limited at this point. A recent search of the literature resulted in only eight sources, each of which will be discussed in more detail in the paragraphs to follow. In only one of these studies (Laanan & Starobin, 2004) have the researchers attempted to examine this population on a national scale. The other studies have examined APA students within the context of a state or local community college system or a particular campus. Despite the limited scope of this research, these sources reveal the remarkable diversity of APA students' backgrounds and experiences at community colleges.
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Publication information: Article title: UCLA Community College Review: The Overlooked Minority: Asian Pacific American Students at Community Colleges. Contributors: Lew, Jonathan W. - Author, Chang, June C. - Author, Wang, Winnie W. - Author. Journal title: Community College Review. Volume: 33. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 2005. Page number: 64+. © 1998 North Carolina State University, Department of Adult & Community College Education. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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