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] yet 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 population consists of dozens of different ethnic groups that vary greatly in terms of the languages they speak, their English proficiency, when they immigrated to the United States and their socioeconomic and first generation college-going status. Given this variation, it should not be surprising that many AAPI ethnic sub-groups are identified as underserved.

[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.

Enrollment/Degree Attainment

  • Though AAPI college enrollment is projected to increase by 35% over the next 10 years, 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 7% 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.
  • AAPI ethnic sub-groups have varying rates of college enrollment and persistence.
    • Fifty-one percent of Vietnamese, 63% of Hmong, 65% of Laotian and 66% of Cambodian adults living in the U.S. have either not enrolled in or not completed their postsecondary education.
    • In fact, 34% of Laotian, 39% of Cambodian and 40% of Hmong adults in the U.S. lack a high school diploma or the equivalent.
    • By contrast, over 40% of Japanese-Americans and nearly 50% of Filipino-Americans have earned bachelor’s degrees.
  • Aggregating all subgroups, 55% of AAPI males and 64% of AAPI females completed a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2013.



  • AAPI students increasingly come from low-income home environments and 22% of these students receive Pell Grants.
    • Overall, AAPI poverty increased by 38% between 2007 and 2011; among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students it increased by 60%.
  • Among the challenges many AAPI students must overcome are first generation status, insufficient language proficiency, immigration status, financial barriers and a lack of family support.
  • Many AAPI students also struggle against the model minority stereotype (a belief that they are economically and educational 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.
    • 60% of AAPI students have family responsibilities while enrolled in school (e.g., financial obligations, care-taking 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.

Updated November 2015