A study conducted by the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity found gaps in college access and success among Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students (AANHPI) in California, home to the largest population of Asian Americans in the country.
The May 2022 study, titled “The State of Higher Education for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Californians,” showed the disaggregated AANHPI student data, which consists of 30 different ethnic groups.
“Asian Americans and NHPIs have a reputation for being successful students, with data on academic outcomes often painting the portrait of a high-performing group, especially for East and South Asian Americans,” the study said.
“These perceptions, however, stem from group averages that mask the variation in both access to higher education and success after college enrollment in our state’s educational pipeline, and they have given rise to a common misconception that Asian Americans and NHPIs attending our nation’s colleges and universities are all succeeding without a need for better or more targeted support,” the study continued. “Not only does this model minority myth harm students, but it also hamstrings college leaders and policymakers in ensuring practice and policy decisions reflect their constituents’ needs.”
The study found that during the 2017-2018 academic year, 84% of Asian Americans enrolled in college after graduating from high school, while only 59% of NHPI students enrolled. It also showed that while most Asian Americans and NHPI students attended one of 116 California Community Colleges, 16% and 15% of Asian American undergraduate students attended a California State University (CSU) or a University of California (UC), respectively. Meanwhile, 10% and 4% of NHPI students attended CSU and UC, respectively.
Disparities in transfer rates from community colleges to four-year universities among the ethnic groups in the AANHPI community showed that Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese students are tied at 42%, while Samoans were the lowest at 19% for the 2013-2014 academic year.
In total, less than one-third (29%) of Asian Americans and a quarter (24%) of NHPI first-time, full-time students graduated in four years from CSU in the fall of 2015; however, the numbers vary among the ethnic groups within the community.
For instance, 85% of Malaysian students graduated from CSU in four to six years, followed by Japanese and Indo Chinese students at 81% and 80%, respectively. Tongans, Samoans and Hmong students took up the lowest portion of the study at 15%, 35% and 49%, respectively.
Meanwhile, at UC, 94% of students of Sri Lankan descent graduated in six years, but only 50% of Tongan students graduated in the same academic period.
According to the report, AANHPI UC transfer students are “generally well supported to finish their bachelor’s degrees within four years, but four-year graduation rates for Asian American and NHPI students transferring to the UC range from as low as 68% (Sri Lankan) to as high as 97% (Indonesian).”
While the number of students among the AANHPI communities between the ages of 25 and 64 earning their bachelor’s degree has risen from 2015 to 2020, “only one in five (22%) of NHPI Californians has a bachelor’s degree,” the report continued.
Taiwanese, Indian and Malaysian students make up the highest percentage of undergraduate degree attainment, with 82%, 79% and 72%, respectively. Data also showed that Tongan (14%), Samoan and Laotian students (both 19%) placed lower.
“While many Asian Americans have achieved significant success in education, a sizeable [sic] number have not and need better supports to ensure they are equipped to thrive within the state’s economic future,” the report said. “For our state to provide a real pathway to college, where race/ethnicity and zip code do not determine the future of any talented student, we must begin by recognizing the diversity of Asian American and NHPI Californians and the vast differences in their experiences in our educational systems.”