Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Environmental, Social, and Psychological Experiences of Asian American Undergraduates: Examining Issues of Academic Persistence. (Research)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Environmental, Social, and Psychological Experiences of Asian American Undergraduates: Examining Issues of Academic Persistence. (Research)

Article excerpt

Within higher education, the academic achievements of Asian Americans have been well recognized (S. Sue & Okazaki, 1990). When compared with other racial and ethnic minorities and White Americans, Asian Americans demonstrate higher college entry, persistence, and completion rates (Hsia & Peng, 1998; Peng & Wright, 1994), resulting in their identification as the most educated group in the United States (Nagasawa & Espinosa, 1992). For example, in a national study examining the proportion of students who graduated from college within 6 years from initial enrollment, Asian American students had the highest graduation rate (64%), followed by White (59%), Hispanic (45%), African American (38%), and American Indian (37%) students (American Council on Education [ACE], 1998).

Despite the high proportion of Asian Americans with college degrees, a sizable segment of this population has very little formal education. For example, the proportion of Asian Americans who had less than a high school education was slightly higher than that of non-Hispanic White Americans (Ong & Hee, 1993). Because of these data and the heterogeneity that exists within the Asian American population (e.g., socioeconomic characteristics, cultural backgrounds, immigration experiences), a bimodal distribution appears to more accurately reflect this group's level of educational attainment (Ong & Hee, 1993; L. L. Wang, 1993). Specifically, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, and Southeast Asians are believed to have much lower levels of educational attainment when compared with their Chinese, Japanese, and Korean counterparts (Suzuki, 1994; Wong, Lai, Nagasawa, & Lin, 1998). Because academic institutions rarely disaggregate their data on Asian Americans, it is difficult to assess the specific educational statuses of various ethnic groups (Suzuki, 1994).

Many hypotheses have been proposed to explain the educational success of Asian Americans as compared with Whites, including innate intelligence differences, cultural determinism, and relative functionalism (see S. Sue & Okazaki, 1990, for a review of these theories). Despite these explanations of academic success, investigations of Asian American students' environmental, social, and psychological experiences are limited (Suzuki, 1994). Specifically, there is a paucity of empirical studies examining the factors that influence adaptation of Asian Americans to the university environment (House, 1997), and even less research across various Asian groups (Kim, Rendon, & Valadez, 1998).

The low interest in the higher education experiences of Asian Americans may be due to the model minority stereotype that portrays them as enjoying extraordinary academic and economic success with minimal mental health concerns (Suzuki, 1994). According to Lee (1996), this stereotype obscures the specific issues of certain Asian American groups (and individuals) that "can [or] do not achieve model minority success" (p. 125). As the Asian American student population continues to grow in number, diversity, and complexity (Barnes & Bennett, 2000), it is critical that their varied college experiences be examined.

Successful adaptation to college is the decision to remain or persist in college, along with having a sense of psychological well-being and performing well academically (Baker & Siryk, 1984; Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994). Historically, cognitive indicators (e.g., standardized test scores and high school grade point average [GPA]) and academic dimensions (e.g., poor study habits) have been used to predict successful college persistence. Researchers, however, have posited that the adaptation to college is different for racial and ethnic minority students than for White students (ACE, 1998; Tinto, 1993; Tracey & Sedlacek, 1987). Nearly 25 years ago, Sedlacek and Brooks (1976) argued that noncognitive dimensions, such as positive self-concept, ability to deal with racism, and demonstrated community service, are just as important or more important to the successful adaptation of racial and ethnic minorities to the college environment as are traditional academic measures. …

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