Scholarship Fund Group Seeks Increased Support for Asian American-focused Minority-Serving Schools

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

In order to boost America’s college degree attainment rates amid the country’s shifting demographics, resources should be targeted toward Minority-Serving Institutions with the highest concentration of low-income students from the often “overlooked and underserved” groups of Asian and Pacific Islander students.

That was one of the take-home points from a forthcoming report presented in preliminary form on Monday at the second annual higher education summit of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund.

The report—officially known as the 2011 CARE Report (National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education)—was presented by New York University associate professor of higher education Robert T. Teranishi.

Teranishi used the figures in the report to advocate for increasing the number of schools federally designated as Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (or AANAPISIs) and increasing the funding of such schools.

Currently, Teranishi said, only 15 of the 52 schools designated as AANAPISIs get funded through the federal AANAPISI program. Further, data show that far more schools—148 as of this year—are eligible for the program, and by 2013 the number will be 160.

“We believe that working with the AANAPISI program and its campuses holds great untapped potential for educating institutional, state and national audiences about how to better respond to the unique needs [and] challenges of the (Asian and Pacific Islander American) college student population,” Teranishi said.

Like other speakers at the summit, Teranishi sought to weave the importance of increasing degree attainment rates among Asian and Pacific Islander American students into the overall college completion agenda of the Obama administration. That agenda calls for having Americans have the highest proportion of college degrees in the world by 2020—a goal that summit speakers said won’t be reached without increasing degree attainment rates among Asian and Pacific Islander students, who have experienced a five-fold increase in higher education enrollment from 1979 to 2009, from 235,000 to 1.3 million.

Similarly, Teranishi and others called for Asian and Pacific Islander American students to be included more in policy discussions that revolve around how to increase the country’s rates of degree attainment.

In furtherance of that particular objective, summit officials announced the creation of the Asian Pacific Islander American Association of Colleges and Universities, or APIAACU, meant to serve as an umbrella organization for AANAPISIs. It is meant to support AANAPISIs in a manner similar to how the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education serve Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and HBCUs, respectively.

The new organization is considered a tangible result of one of the recommendations from last year’s summit. Summit organizers also touted the U.S. Department of Education’s recent decision to recognize AANAPISIs on its website along with other minority-serving institutions as another recommendation that came to fruition.

Dr. Antonio Flores, executive director of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, said his organization will collaborate with APIAACU because Latino students and Asian American and Pacific Islander students “share a lot of common ground,” both as the youngest and fastest-growing minorities in the U.S. and as students who often attend the same institutions.

“Many HSIs are also AANAPISIs,” Flores noted.

Several speakers also attacked the “model minority” myth that is often associated with Asian American students.

Among other things, speakers noted, there are dozens of distinct groups—from Bangladeshi to Laotian—so the success among some of the groups tends to mask the challenges experienced by others.

For instance, Teranishi said, Southeast Asians are three to five times as likely to drop out of college as East Asians and South Asians.

Teranishi said it’s also important to recognize the type of institutions attended by Asian and Pacific Islander American students.

For instance, he said he found that Asian and Pacific Islander American students who attend community colleges are more likely to enter college with lower levels of academic preparation and a greater need for remedial education. They also are more likely to be older, attend part time, put off graduation and work a full-time job. More often they come from low-income backgrounds and are the first in their family to attend college—all considered “risk factors” for non-completion.

In order to help more Asian and Pacific Islander American students complete their degrees, Michael Fung, an APIASF board member and CFO for Walmart U.S., announced a new $150,000 grant to provide scholarships to help more Asian and Pacific Islander American students get through school as well as for a two-year study on how many Asian and Pacific Islander American students actually transfer to four-year colleges.

Fung said that he ultimately wound up studying business, which led him to his current career, and that he did so despite being “dangerously naive” about scholarships.

Fung said he himself would have benefitted from an organization such as the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, which has awarded some $40 million in scholarships since 2003.

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