South East Asians and Pacific Islanders lost in education divide

By Chelsea Wallis
Oct. 17. 2011 – Medill News Service, Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON—New statistics reveal a divide between the perceived academic success of Asian and Pacific Island students and graduation rates.

High profile South Asian and East Asian achievements and perceptions are overshadowing the struggles of the South East Asian and Pacific Islander students in the same demographic, panelists in Washington said last week.

We need to show the diversity of the API community, Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said. “It’s Native Hawaiians, South East Asians, Filipinos, Chinese, Micronesians,” she added, “We can’t just all be lumped together into one big statistic.”

Advocates are trying to narrow the disparity, but it’s tough to give advice to cover all higher-education institutions when they have different student populations with different needs, said Neil Horikoshi, head of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund.

There are between 4,000 and 5,000 higher education institutions in the U.S.

Of those, two-thirds of the Asian American, Pacific Islander student population is enrolled in about 200 institutions, said Robert Terinishi, professor of education research at New York University.

“One of the biggest challenges was the lack of disaggregated data to even highlight the kind of students we serve,” said Horikoshi.

The report also revealed that 46 percent of Asian Indian students seek advanced degrees, while 50 percent of Native Hawaiian students receive some college education but drop out before receiving a degree. Gaps like this one are skewing the overall statistic.

Schools need to acknowledge these students, Teranishi said. But students need stand up for their needs as well.

Seata Shyon, a scholarship recipient and anthropology student at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., attributes her success to counselors pushing her in the right direction.

Her high school mentor’s advice: Closed mouths don’t get fed.

Tu-Lien Kim Nguyen speaks about how a scholarship for Asian American and Pacific Island students influenced her life.

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