Asian Americans’ Academic Success Misleading, Report Says

Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2008

The success of some Asian American and Pacific Islander college students has given rise to a myth of the “model minority” that obscures important differences within a diverse population whose educational needs are often neglected, according to a report released Monday.

The concentration of Asian American students in a relatively small number of elite universities, including UCLA and UC Berkeley, has raised fears of a “takeover” of the upper tiers of higher education in the U.S., according to the report, a collaboration between a national commission, research institutes at New York University and the College Board. In reality, more than half of Asian American students attend community colleges or minimally selective four-year colleges, the report stated.

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Many Asian American students do excel in higher education, particularly in California, where they make up roughly 40% of admissions to the flagship Los Angeles and Northern California UC campuses, UCLA education professor Mitchell Chang said.

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As of 2000, 44.1% of Asian Americans had obtained college degrees, according to the report. The average in the United States is 24.4%, the report stated.

But many Asian groups in the U.S. fell far short of those achievement levels. Almost 60% of Hmong—from southern China and Southeast Asia—that same year had less than a high school education, according to the report.

Pacific Islanders fared poorly. Only 15% of Native Hawaiians, for example, had college degrees.

Chang said the lower income groups do not have the stellar high school preparation or other advantages of the more affluent ones.

The majority of Asian American students at UCLA are from low-income families, Chang said. Their choice of colleges is between UCLA and the Cal State system, not pricey private schools, he said.

They often feel “tremendous pressure” to fit the model minority stereotype, continuing to struggle, for example, in science or math programs when they would be better suited to other areas of study.

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