Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Facts and figures related to Asian American and Pacific Islander students.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students make up an incredibly diverse segment of the U.S. college population,[i] but AAPI students are often left out of conversations about students of color and are seldom recognized in academic research. When AAPI students are included, they are often referred to as the “model minority,” a reference point against which other groups of students are compared. In reality, the AAPI umbrella represents over 50 different ethnic groups that vary greatly in terms of languages, English proficiency, colonial history, immigration patterns, and socioeconomic and first-generation college-going status. Given this diversity, it is not surprising that many AAPI ethnic subgroups are identified as underserved. However, without disaggregated data, it may be difficult to understand how these nuances can account for differentiated academic outcomes.[i]

There is great variability in the Asian American population, which continues to grow every year. The rapidly increasing population has experienced a growth of 46 percent since the 2000 Census and a growth of 10 percent from 2010 to 2013. According to the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS), of the approximately 21.1 million Asian Americans, the largest ethnic groups were Chinese (4.8 million), Asian Indian (4.0 million) and Filipino (3.9 million). Together they comprised approximately 60 percent of the Asian American population. Other East Asian groups like Korean and Japanese comprised another 15 percent of the population. The newer wave of Asian immigrants and refugees, the Southeast Asians, which include Vietnamese, Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian, comprised another 14 percent of the population. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups made up less than one percent of the U.S. population.

Enrollment/Degree Attainment

  • Though AAPI college enrollment has increased by 29 percent since the 2000 Census, these students remain in the minority across all sectors of postsecondary education.
    • The largest representation of AAPI students is at public four-year institutions, where they make up seven percent of the student population.
    • Nearly half of AAPI students are enrolled in community colleges, yet they compose only 6% of the two-year public college population.
  • According to the 2015 ACS, AAPI ethnic sub-groups have varying rates of college enrollment and persistence.
    • Fifty percent of Vietnamese, 54 percent of Hmong, 60 percent of Laotian and 60 percent of Cambodian adults living in the U.S. have either not enrolled in or not completed their postsecondary education (the survey excludes students who have attended some college or completed an associate’s degree).
    • In fact, 29 percent of Laotian, 33 percent of Cambodian and 31 percent of Hmong adults in the U.S. lack a high school diploma or the equivalent.
    • Forty-nine percent of Native Hawaiian, 57 percent of Samoan, 58 percent of Tongan, and 53 percent of Guamanian adults 25 and older have not completed a two-year or four-year degree.
    • By contrast, over 52 percent of Chinese, 50 percent of Japanese Americans and nearly 52 percent of Filipino Americans have earned Bachelor’s degrees.
  • Aggregating all subgroups, 55 percent of AAPI males and 64 percent of AAPI females completed a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2013.


  • AAPI students increasingly come from low-income home environments and 22 percent of these students receive Pell Grants.
    • Overall, AAPI poverty increased by 38 percent between 2007 and 2011; among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students it increased by 60 percent, surpassing the national increase of 27 percent.
  • Among the challenges many AAPI students must overcome are insufficient language proficiency, immigration status, financial barriers and a lack of family support.
    • More than half of all Asian undergraduates are immigrants and will be the first in their families to graduate college
    • One out of every three Asian Americans have limited English proficiency and have reported experiencing difficulties communicating in English
    • One out of every seven Asian immigrants is undocumented
  • Many AAPI students also struggle against the model minority stereotype (a belief that they are economically and educationally privileged) despite the fact that many live in poverty and come from families with low levels of education. Many maintain roles as caretakers, translators, breadwinners and cultural brokers for their families and communities on top of their responsibilities as students.
    • Sixty percent of AAPI students have family responsibilities while enrolled in school (e.g., financial obligations, caretaking responsibilities).


Teranishi, R. “Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education.” Teachers College Press: New York, NY (2010).

The Distribution of Grants and Scholarships by Race.” September 2011.

National Center for Education Statistics: The Condition of Education.

A National Report on the Needs and Experiences of Low-Income Asian American and Pacific Islander Scholarship Recipients.” Asian and Pacific Islander Scholarship Fund, 2013.

Profile of Undergraduate students: 2011-2012.” National Center for Education Statistics, October, 2014.

The Relevance of Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders in the College Completion Agenda.”  National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education, 2011.

Census Data & API Identities.”  Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, 2015.

American Community Survey of 2015.” United States Census Bureau, 2015.

“State of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” Center for American Progress, 2014.

National Center for Education Statistics: Condition of Education. 2017.

Why Disaggregate? Big Differences in AAPI Education.” AAPI Data, 2017.

The Rise of Asian Americans.” Social & Demographic Trends, Pew Research Center, 2010.

AAPI Community Infographics and Data.” Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, 2016.


[i] The 2000 Census found great variability in the Asian American population.  Of the 10.5-12.2 million Asian Americans, the largest ethnic groups were Chinese (2.5 million), Filipino (1.9 million), and Asian Indian (1.7 million). Together they comprised approximately 60% of the Asian American population.  Korean and Japanese comprised another 18% of the population.  Southeast Asians which include Vietnamese, Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian, comprised another 16% of the population.



Updated August 2017