University of California Tries to Better Understand Asian Students

The University of California is expanding the categories undergraduate applicants use to self-report their ethnicity as part of an effort to collect and better report the “complexities” of its Asian American and Pacific Islander students. It will become the first public institution of higher education in California to collect and report data specifically on Hmong, Filipino and other Asian subgroups.

“The data UC collects are a reflection of how well we are serving the diverse people of California,” said Dr. Judy Sakaki, UC’s vice president for student affairs. “My goal is for improved data reporting to spur greater accountability regarding overlooked populations in our student body.”

Next year’s undergraduate application will include 23 Asian American and Pacific Islander categories, up from the eight that are currently recorded.

The “Count Me In” campaign, a student-led crusade to get the University of California system and the state to disaggregate data so that the needs and challenges of the various Asian subgroups aren’t overlooked, played a role in UC’s decision as did calls from UC faculty for richer research data and state legislative interest.

Through aggregated data, Asians are often portrayed as academically, socially and economically successful. But in a report released last summer, the federal Government Accountability Office warned that the “Asian” umbrella masks the underperformance of some Asian subgroups, like Vietnamese and Native Hawaiians. As UC noted in its announcement Friday, a closer look at the Hmong community in California shows that 66 percent have less than a high school degree, compared to 23 percent of all California adults.

“The prevalent model minority myth can make many disadvanteged members of our community invisible to policymakers,” said Candice Shikai, a UCLA student and director of the Asian Pacific Coalition, which initiated the “Count Me In” campaign.

“Collecting data on more Asian American and Pacific Islander groups will result in a more accurate picture of how students are doing,” she added.

The ethnic data collected by UC is used in evaluating graduation and retention rates. Next year’s applications for admissions will include separate categories for Chinese, Taiwanese, Asian Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and “other” Asian.

The GAO recommended institutions share information about strategies to recruit, retain and increase graduation rates of all Asian students in an effort that would be facilitated by the U.S. Department of Education.

–Diverse staff

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