It should be common sense that Asian American and Pacific Islander students are not universally high achieving and on the college track. But, thanks to the "model minority" stereotype—the myth that all Asians are highly educated and financially successful—the academic challenges that AAPI students face are frequently ignored. AAPI students encounter teachers who believe they're intrinsically smart, and any extra help they need will come from their parents—who are, of course, penning the sequel to Amy Chua's controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book. Well, according to several AAPI higher education organizations, the latest report from the Pew Research Center, The Rise of the Asian Americans, only serves to reinforce those damaging stereotypes.
The report combined census data and telephone interviews with 3,511 adults over the age of 18 who represent the six largest Asian-American ethnicities: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese—groups that comprise 85 percent of the nation's 17 million Asian Americans. Pew's number crunching reveals "Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States."
They found that 61 percent of recent Asian immigrants have a college degree and 49 percent of Asian Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In comparison, just 28 percent of the general population has a degree. And, when it comes to the whole Tiger Mom stereotype, 39 percent of respondents say that Asian American parents put too much pressure of their children to succeed academically, but only 9 percent believe American parents go overboard.
The report goes on to detail how Asian Americans don't feel they're affected by racism and are "more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work, and career success."
But a joint statement from the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education says painting such a rosy picture ignores the challenges around poverty and educational access that recent AAPI immigrants face. They also warn that promoting such an image of AAPI students contributes "to their exclusion from federally-supported policies, programs, and initiatives."
The groups note the Pew report excludes data on the Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian communities, which have poverty rates similar to the black and Latino communities. Far from being model minorities heading to college en masse, the AAPI education groups cite data that shows that 50.2 percent of Pacific Islanders and 40.3 percent of South East Asians haven't gone to college. For those who do manage to get there, a significant percentage—over 56 percent for Pacific Islander students and 45 percent of South East Asians—don't complete their degrees.
Indeed, while the Pew report touts the fact that 70 percent of Indian and 53 percent of Korean immigrants have college degrees, what's buried in its pages is the nugget that in 2011 half of those immigrants received green cards because of employer sponsorship—meaning American companies are recruiting highly educated workers from Asia and enabling them to come here.
In comparison, just 1 percent of Vietnamese immigrants—"the only major subgroup to have come to the U.S. in large numbers as political refugees" can say the same. The AAPI education groups also note that although the Tiger Mom stereotype is admired in some circles, that kind of pressure means "AAPI students have some of highest rates of stress, anxiety, and depression."
The groups caution that reports like this one from Pew "tell only part of the AAPI student story" and are sure to be used as an excuse to ignore the needs of AAPI students. Instead, what's really needed is "purposeful research and action that aligns with the reality of AAPI students' lives" and helps them overcome the "barriers that hinder their ability to earn a degree."