Model label for Asians is shallow and misses much
Associated Press
June 10, 2008


Tucson, Arizona | Published: 

With their high visibility on elite college campuses, Asian-Americans have picked up a nickname that makes many uncomfortable: the "model minority."

But a new report argues that Asian-Americans' reputation for academic success has obscured important variations within the group and created a false sense that all their education needs are being met.

As a group, Asian-Americans have earned above-average incomes and achieved high average levels of education, said Rep. David Wu, D.-Ore., at a news conference Monday to release the report by a national commission, two New York University research institutes and the College Board, which owns the SAT exam. But they are clustered both at both the high and low ends of the scale.

"The conversation in our society has had this high-income, high-education group completely overshadow this other group of folks," Wu said. "It has been an education process to convince folks that we are not an ethnic group, every one of which has just graduated from Harvard."

Relative to other ethnic minorities, Asian-Americans have, indeed, been extremely successful by many academic measures. They substantially outscore other minority groups on average scores on the SAT college entrance exam. And according to the report more than 44 percent of those included in the group Asian-American (but excluding Pacific Islanders) have earned a bachelor's degree, 20 percentage points higher than the national average.

In the prestigious University of California system, the number of Asian-Americans enrolling each fall has shot up 59 percent in the decade since a ballot initiative ended racial preferences in admissions.

But the study notes often overlooked disparities in achievement among the 48 Asian and Pacific Islander groups that fall into the category under the census.

Just 7.5 percent of Hmong immigrants, 9.2 percent of Cambodians and 7.7 percent of Laotians had earned a bachelor's degree in 2000, compared with 43.8 percent of Filipinos and an identical proportion of Koreans.

On standardized tests, Asians are often disproportionately represented among the highest scores, but also among the lowest doomed by poor English skills. And while their numbers have surged at many high-profile schools, enrollment among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders is actually increasing nearly twice as fast at community colleges as at four-year ones.

Jih-Fei Cheng, coordinator of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Center at California State Polytechnic, Pomona, said the "model minority" idea is a burden for many Asian-American students, who comprise about one-third of the student body there.

"What's insidious about that idea now is that a lot of the youth that are raised now in the U.S. of Asian descent, whether they're from families that have been here five or six generations, or just one or two, they are pressured by this 'model minority' myth by their families and society," he said.

Robert Teranishi of NYU, one of the study's authors, said Asian-American students face challenges including "being invisible, people assuming they don't have any educational needs."