Asian-Americans are the highest-earning and fastest-growing racial group in the United States.
They’re also the best educated, as new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrate. More than half of Asians in the United States, 54 percent, have at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s up from 38 percent in 1995. It’s an impressive number, especially when compared to the 33 percent college-graduation rate for the total U.S. population.
The Census Bureau also found that higher-education rates for native-born Asian-Americans are the same as their foreign-born counterparts.
Experts say this impressive rate of educational achievement has a lot to do with a U.S. immigration policy that favors the applications of highly-educated immigrants from Asian countries.
“Since 1965, some Asian-American immigrants have come to the U.S. under certain immigration preference categories that favor professional skills and training,” Eliza Noh, an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton, said in an email. “Those groups tend to already have educational training and economic resources, which they invest in their children’s education. Their access to social and economic capital is what fuels academic achievement.”
Asian-Americans — immigrants and their descendants who come from the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent — account for about 6 percent of the U.S. population. Six groups make up the majority of this population, including people of Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese origin.
These highly-educated immigrants build so-called “ethnic capital“, which results in programs such as tutoring and college-prep courses that build their children’s academic achievement.
“Besides being able to spend more money on their children’s curricular and extra-curricular activities, such as tutoring and academic clubs,” Noh said, “middle-class parents can pass on their knowledge of how to be successful in academia, such as study skills, professional networking, and navigating educational institutions.”
And if Asian-Americans push their children to excel, there are practical reasons behind it, according to Noh.
“If Asian-American parents emphasize education, it has more to do with their perception that education can help them overcome existing barriers in the labor market,” she said. “They know they cannot rely on just their hard work and experience and ‘who they know’ in order to move up the ladder.”
These kinds of statistics have resulted in Asian-Americans being dubbed the “model minority”. Lumping all Asian-Americans into one group contributes to the stereotype that all Asian-Americans are highly educated.
A 2010 report focusing on Asians in California — a state with the highest U.S. Asian population outside of Hawaii — found that expectation to be false. In California, for example, 45 percent of Hmong, 40 percent of Cambodians and Laotians, and one-fifth of Fijians had less than a high school education. The report also found that 20 percent of Pacific Islanders in the state eventually drop out of high school.
The model minority myth — the stereotypical expectation that Asian-American students will excel at school and on the job — is taking its toll.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death — behind unintentional injuries such as car accidents — among Asian-American women between the ages of 15 and 24. The highest female suicide rates, across all ethnic groups, occur among Asian-American women between the ages of 15 and 25 and those over 65. So-called “model minority” expectations and family pressure are often cited as factors contributing to the suicides.
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