Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) make up the fastest growing student population enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities.  College enrollment among AAPI students grew five-fold between 1979 and 2009 from 235,000 to 1.3 million.  In fact, AAPI student college enrollment is estimated to increase 35 percent over the next decade.  Below is a snapshot of AAPI students’ college attendance and participation.

Fig 3

College Attendance and Participation

  • AAPIs have a wide variation in college participation and degree attainment with some subgroups (out of 48 ethnicities in the AAPI community) 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, 47.0 percent of Guamanians, 50.0 percent of Native Hawaiians, 54.0 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.

Fig 5

Community College Attendance and Participation

  • The largest sector of AAPI college enrollment, at 47.3 percent, was in the community college sector in 2005.  While AAPIs made up less than five (5) percent of the national population in 2007, they represented nearly seven (7) percent of all community college students.
  • AAPI community college students were also more likely to enter college with lower levels of academic preparation in English and mathematics.  In 2003, 55.2 percent of AAPI students entering two-year colleges had never taken a math course beyond Algebra II in high school, compared to only 12.7 percent of AAPI students entering four-year institutions in that same year.
  • AAPI community college students are concentrated in a small number of institutions; 80 percent attend institutions in just eight states (see the list of states above), with the majority concentrated at community colleges in California, Hawai’i, and New York.

Fig 6

Source: CARE