Organization Seeks to Combat Asian "Model Minority" Stereotype and Provide Support to AAPI Students

June 26, 2013

In 2011, Yale University professor and Chinese-American mother Amy Chua penned an essay for The Wall Street Journal called "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." The piece, which explored cultural differences between Chinese and "Western" parenting styles, ignited a national debate. Many wondered if these differences helped explain why some Asian American students are so successful -- a common perception in popular culture. As it turns out, this "model student" myth is just that -- a myth -- and according to a new study, may actually create educational barriers for some underserved students.

A report from the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) challenges the "model minority" myth and underscores its consequences for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students.

"While the focus of AAPI enrollment in higher education has mainly relied on a misperception of AAPI students attending only highly-selective universities, the majority of AAPI students attend less selective and lower resourced institutions," the report stated. "In fact, it is in the community college sector where AAPI undergraduates have their greatest representation and where the population is projected to increase at its fastest rate over the next decade. This sector of higher education is also where AAPI students are too often overlooked and underserved."

To address the needs of this underserved minority, Congress started the Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) program in 2008. This program provides educational institutions with high AAPI student enrollment with grants to help them better serve these populations. APIASF and CARE noted with concern that, of the 153 U.S. institutions eligible to become Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), only 21 currently receive funding.

"It is a fact that there is a lack of research and understanding not only about AAPI students, but more importantly, there is literally no scholarly research on students attending [AANAPISI] campuses," Neil Horikoshi, director and president of the APIASF, told Inside Higher Ed.

In response to these issues, the AANAPISI program launched a $2 million initiative in 2012 called the Partnership for Equality in Education Through Research (PEER). Three institutions -- the City College of San Francisco, De Anza College in California and South Seattle Community College -- received grant funds to help their low-income AAPI student demographic. The three schools had free reign over the types of programs or initiatives they would create with the help of the funds. The impact of the schools' AAPI-specific programs were measured over time in order to find the most successful use of funds, so that other colleges could use this valuable information when shaping their own AAPI student programs.

He explained the main goal of the project as "evaluating and confirming the best practices and interventions" for students. The report describes the initiative as largely successful, giving AAPI students more "guidance and support," "access to role models" and "community engagement." Programs also appear to have improved the perception of AAPI students on campus.

Whatever the PEER project's successes, Insider Higher Ed reports that AANAPISIs still face a number of challenges, and many of those eligible do not even apply for funding. Horikoshi said part of the problem may be the schools do not realize they are eligible, making outreach programs essential. He identified another problem as a lack of federal funding to support AANAPISI institutions. Funding all eligible AANAPISIs could require an additional $52.8 million per year, he said.

The new report does not address the differences between various categories of AAPI students found on U.S. campuses. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education reports that earlier this year CARE released another study suggesting the aggregation of ethnic data -- defining several different nationalities of students as simply "Asian" -- made it difficult for programs to identify and serve underrepresented subgroups.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Asian-American Subgroups' Higher Ed Status Supported by Latest Disaggregated Data," diverseeducation.com, June 5, 2013, Lydia Lum


"The Case for Asian-Serving Colleges," insidehighered.com, June 25, 2013, Lauren Ingeno

"Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," wsj.com, January 8, 2011, Amy Chua

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