UCLA Community College Review: The Overlooked Minority: Asian Pacific American Students at Community Colleges

By Lew, Jonathan W.; Chang, June C. et al. | Community College Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

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.

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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. …

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