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Study Notes College-access Barriers Faced By Asian American Students

Despite the pervasive “model-minority” myth of overachieving Asian Americans easily getting into U.S. colleges and universities, a study at the University of California, Los Angeles has found that more Asian American students are facing problems in accessing higher education opportunities than ever before.

“That myth prevents us from recognizing the issues for large portions of Asian American student populations — that do not fit that myth and in some cases are struggling more than other groups in the country,” says Dr. Michael Chang, the study’s co-author and an associate professor of education at UCLA.

The study, “Beyond Myths: The Growth and Diversity of Asian American College Freshmen, 1971-2005,” analyzed the past 35 years and more than 361,000 Asian American, first-time, full-time college students.

Conducted as part of UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program and administered by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, it is the largest compilation and analysis of data on Asian American college students ever undertaken.

The number of Asian American students in higher education topped one million in 2001 and has continued to increase. They are much better prepared for college, are more well-rounded, finish high school with higher grade point averages than ever before and are generally more self-confident in their intellectual and academic abilities, according to the report.

But the study found that fewer Asian American students are getting into their first choices of colleges and universities and that they are also coming more often from low-income homes with limited abilities to pay for the rising costs of a college education.

According to the study, nearly 31 percent of Asian Americans came from households with incomes of less than $40,000 annually. The national average for all groups is 22.7 percent.

“Moreover, Asian American students and parents do not take full advantage of loans and other financial aid opportunities that can assist in meeting the rising cost of a college education,” says study co-author Dr. Don T. Nakanishi, a professor of Asian American studies and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

“It leads us to wonder, is it that they are loan-averse or they don’t know that it’s available to them,” adds Chang.

Chang suspects Asian American students and their families aren’t as well-informed about financial aid opportunities and underutilize those resources. He says there is a need to better inform Asian American families about their financial and academic options.

As a whole, more Asian American students applied to more schools for admission — in 2005, nearly 36 percent of them applied to six or more schools for admissions compared to the roughly 11 percent who did so in 1980.

Yet Asian American students from low-income backgrounds were less likely to apply to six or more schools, limiting their options.

Chang says legislative efforts to improve higher education access, such as the recently enacted College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, can go a long way in helping the situation, specifically for a group that is so diverse in terms of language, economic status and background.

“One of the things that they did was provide funding for institutions that have [a student body that is] at least 10 percent Asian American and that has a large student population that is so-called economically disadvantaged. [Those institutions] can seek funding to provide services for Asian-specific students,” he says.

“What we found was that these differences in the population contributed to differences in access in higher education and their needs when they are in higher education,” Chang adds.

The entire study can be found at

–Add Seymour, Jr.


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