Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: The Changing Demography of the United States and Implications for Education Policy

By Teranishi, Robert T.; Nguyen, Tu-Lien Kim | Asian American Policy Review, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview
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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: The Changing Demography of the United States and Implications for Education Policy

Teranishi, Robert T., Nguyen, Tu-Lien Kim, Asian American Policy Review

Targeted investments in higher education by policy makers are being coupled with the expectation that colleges and universities will educate and train skilled workers for the jobs of tomorrow (Goldrick-Rab et al. 2009). With a focus on making college more affordable and investing in institutions that disproportionately serve high concentrations of low-income students and students of color (e.g., community colleges and minority-serving institutions), a major policy strategy is to decrease long-standing disparities in college access and degree attainment. The participation of all Americans, including underrepresented racial minority groups, low-income students, immigrants, and language minorities, is essential to ensuring that the United States can lead the world in creativity, productivity, and achievement.

Within the context of expanding higher education opportunities, we draw attention to the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) student population and its role in meeting national priorities. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of what is known about the AAPI student population has been heavily influenced by stereotypes and false perceptions rather than by empirical evidence (Goldrick-Rab et al. 2009). The dominant narrative about AAPIs in higher education is that they are a model minority--a racial group with disproportionately high levels of educational attainment--attending only the most selective four-year colleges and institutions and facing no challenges in attaining degrees. When referring to underrepresented or disadvantaged students, much of the policy and academic literature focuses largely on "non-Asian" minorities, often omitting AAPI students altogether. As a result, there is a dearth of knowledge about the demography of AAPI students, their educational trajectories, or their postsecondary outcomes. AAPIs are, in many ways, invisible in policy considerations not only at the federal, state, and local levels but in the development of campus services and programs as well (U.S. Government Accountability Office 2007; Lee and Kumashiro 2005).

The purpose of this article is to highlight key findings from recent research by the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE). This research demonstrates the needs, challenges, and experiences of AAPI students, particularly with regard to the wide range of social and institutional contexts in which they pursue their educational aspirations. Specifically, this article discusses the following trends relative to higher education:

* The growth and uniqueness of the AAPI population, nationally and within different sectors of education

* The need to expand opportunities and remove barriers at institutions that serve AAPI students

* Recommendations for change in the education policy arena

This article demonstrates the potential of a more accessible and equitable system of education, the importance of diversity as a major factor in our ability to compete in a global society, and the need for greater investment in institutions that serve low-income minority populations to expand opportunities and remove barriers.


The college completion agenda is a response to the declining position in degree attainment among Americans relative to that of other nations. This decline occurs in the United States while every other developed nation shows increases in such attainment. As a result, the United States has fallen from first to tenth in international postsecondary completion rate rankings (Lumina Foundation for Education 2009). President Barack Obama has committed to ensuring that all Americans have the ability to pursue college and that the United States "regain its lost ground" and have the highest proportion of young adults with college degrees compared to other developed nations by 2020. The Lumina Foundation has its "Big Goal" of increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

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