UC to track more Asian ethnic groups
Scripps Howard News Service
Dec. 18 2007

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/216658

 

Candice Shikai doesn't like math.

She took advanced math classes in elementary school only because her parents pushed her.

"Other students said that because I was Asian, of course, I was going to be in the advanced class," said the UCLA senior. "But I struggled immensely in math."

Being held up collectively as the "model minority" is a disservice to some Asian American students, say University of California administrators and student groups that pushed to change the way the UC system collects students' ethnic data.

"Forty percent of UCLA fits under the Asian category, and it is presumed that we don't have any educational problems," said Shikai, who is Japanese American. "That is not true."

The UC system announced recently it will become the first public higher education institution in the state to collect data on an expanded list of Asian ethnic groups, from Tongan and Fijian to Hmong and Cambodian.

UC's undergraduate applications next year will include 23 Asian American and Pacific Islander categories, nearly three times the eight currently recorded.

Dividing Asian and Pacific Island students into more precisely defined ethnic groups will allow universities to monitor graduation and retention rates and tailor outreach programs to groups that need them, officials say.

"We expect that the more detailed breakdown for Asian Americans will help us find out, for example, the extent of differences in university admissions and enrollment trends among Hmong, Guamanian, or other Asian students," Pamela Burnett, director of undergraduate admissions for UC Davis, said in an e-mail.

Thousands of UC students behind the "Count Me In" campaign that pushed for the new applications argued that knowing more about who is enrolled will result in a more balanced, inclusive admissions policy.

"I totally support it," said Kathy Her, a vice president of the Hmong Student Union at UC Davis.

Recently, in preparation for a Hmong workshop at a conference for students of color at UC Santa Cruz, she and a friend tried to find retention and drop-out rates for Hmong, but exact numbers did not exist.

"I wanted to know how many have gone to UC Davis and what has kept them here," she said.

Her wondered if a retention program called Southeast Asians Furthering Education is keeping Hmong classmates in school and if scholarships are helpful in bringing them to the Davis campus.

Vic Ramos, principal of Rosemont High School, said having better information will help high schools focus on students who need more preparation.

Bill Kidder, special assistant to the vice president for student affairs for the UC Office of the President, said the information will be important for diverse areas such as the Sacramento region. Census Bureau figures from 2006 show Sacramento is home to more than 188,000 Asians from 119 Bangladeshis to more than 39,000 Chinese and 11,692 Laotians.

Ethnicity cannot be used in UC's admission process not since the 1996 passage of Proposition 209 but the campuses still keep track of who gets accepted.

This year's class of in-state freshmen at UC is 35.5 percent white, 35.3 percent Asian American, 18.7 percent Latino and 3.6 percent African American.

Asian American students involved in the "Count Me In" campaign pointed out the significant difference between newly immigrated Asian Americans from poor countries and groups who have been in the United States for generations.

Fewer than 10 percent of recently immigrated Hmong Americans have earned a college degree, compared for example with 40 percent of Japanese Americans who have at least a bachelor's degree.

"We've been asking for (more detailed data) for a very, very long time," said Wendy Ho, director of Asian American studies at UC Davis. "The nuances and specificities of cultures can now be made visible."

Her, the UC Davis student, estimated that there are about 400 Hmong on campus. But that is a guess.

"In the application process and around campus, nobody really knows who we are," she said. "If you are tan, dark-haired and have small eyes, you are automatically assumed to be Chinese or Japanese.