Asian American and Pacific Islander Students Need More Support to Attain College Degrees, New Research Shows

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Robert Teranishi, an associate professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, was the study’s principal investigator.

The publication, The Relevance of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders in the College Completion Agenda, focuses on the need to be mindful of equity and diversity in the college completion agenda, particularly with meeting the needs of overlooked AAPI populations.

The report may downloaded by clicking here.

Data also reveal that AAPIs have a wide variation in college participation and degree attainment that includes some subgroups (out of 48 ethnicities in the AAPI community) being more likely to attend community colleges and less selective institutions—resulting in significant differences in degree attainment rates within the AAPI student population. While more than four out of five East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and South Asians (Asian Indian and Pakistani) who enrolled in college earned at least a bachelor’s degree, large proportions of other AAPI subgroups are attending college, but not earning a degree. Among Southeast Asians, 33.7 percent of Vietnamese, 42.9 percent of Cambodians, 46.5 percent of Laotians, and 47.5 percent of Hmong adults (25 years or older) reported having attended college, but not earning a degree.

Similar to Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders have a very high rate of attrition during college. Among Pacific Islanders, 47 percent of Guamanians, 50 percent of Native Hawaiians, 54 percent of Tongans, and 58.1 percent of Samoans entered college, but left without earning a degree. Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders also had a higher proportion of college attendees who earned an associate’s degree as their highest level of education, while East Asians and South Asians were more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree.

“The changing demography of our nation—that includes some of the fastest growing groups such as people of color, immigrants, and English Language Learners—should force us to be more mindful of how equity and diversity in higher education are confounding issues with the college completion agenda,” said Robert Teranishi, an associate professor in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Administration, Leadership, and Technology. “With globalization as a mantra in the college completion agenda, it is essential to look at the importance of reaping the full benefits of diversity in American society and increasing degree attainment among all underserved communities.”

In addition, The Relevance of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders in the College Completion Agenda report offers a set of recommendations that emerged from the 2011 APIASF College Completion Forum: Strengthening Institutions that Serve Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (June 27-28). These include:

  • Expanding Knowledge and Broadening Awareness. The field of higher education needs to broaden its awareness about and be more responsive to the AAPI community. Recommended interventions include leveraging existing knowledge and expertise, pursuing new research, and disaggregating and cross-tabulating data.
  • Building Institutional Capacity. For institutions serving high concentrations of AAPI students (e.g., Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions), it is essential to build capacity to better understand and respond to their unique needs. Recommended interventions include increasing resources for institutions serving AAPI students, improving access to and effectiveness of services, and sharing a vision of institutional change.
  • Coalition Building and Advocacy Efforts. Advocacy is a key step toward greater access to resources and opportunities for AAPI students. AAPI and other minority-serving advocates should work in concert by discussing the ways in which their goals and interests are aligned around broad reform efforts. Recommended interventions include generating actionable goals and establish benchmarks, broadening partnerships to be more inclusive, and exploring public/private partnerships.

“The stark reality is that the demand for college-educated workers in this country is rapidly outpacing the number of college graduates. We need to think about ways to better serve the unique needs and challenges of AAPI students who are not gaining access to higher education or who are dealing with a high rate of attrition during college,” said APIASF President and Executive Director Neil Horikoshi. “For too long there has not been enough federal policy attention given to the AAPI population. Now is the time for our nation to work toward meaningful change to address the unique needs and challenges of AAPI students.”

For more information about CARE or to download a free copy of The Relevance of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders in the College Completion Agenda report, visit Additional details about APIASF may be found by visiting its web site at

About CARE

The National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE), consisting of a national commission, research advisory group, and research team at New York University, aims to engage realistic and actionable discussions about the mobility and educational opportunities for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and how distinctions of race, ethnicity, language, and other factors play out in the day-to-day operations of America’s education system. Our goal is to provide much needed and timely research on key issues and trends related to access and participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in higher education.


Based in Washington, D.C., the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) is the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted solely to providing college scholarships for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Since 2003, APIASF has provided a critical bridge to higher education for AAPI students across the country by distributing more than $50 million in scholarships to students. APIASF manages two scholarship programs: APIASF’s general scholarship and the Gates Millennium Scholars/Asian Pacific Islander Americans funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Research, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Faculty

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