Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pacific Islander Americans: Underrepresented in Higher Education, Unnoticed by most Academic Programs for Underrepresented Minorities

Pacific Islander Americans trace their ancestry to the original peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. The one-million-plus Pacific Islanders who live in the 50 States include those who are indigenous to parts of the Pacific that are now U.S. soil (the State of Hawaii, American Samoa, and Guam, as well as immigrants and native-born Americans of immigrant ancestry. (Some sources indicate Pacific Islanders began immigrating to North America before the "western frontier" was part of the United States.)

Like African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians and Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders are a minority group working to contribute to the Nation we all call home. And like the minority population in general, America's Pacific Islander population is growing faster than the U.S. population in general. It's also true that like the three aforementioned groups (and unlike Asian Americans), Pacific Islander are underrepresented in higher education. In fact, the U.S. Census indicates that Pacific Islander Americans are over 40 percent less likely to receive a Bachelors degree, and less than half as likely to receive an advanced degree (M.A., J.D. M.D., PhD, etc.).

(These number in more detail: According to a 2009 news release from the U.S. Census Bureau, 28 percent of the general U.S. population over 25-years-old have at least a Bachelors degree - nearly three in ten. By comparison, looking at Americans who describe themselves as Pacific Islander-alone (I'll get into the nuts and bolts of racial classification in a future post), only 15 percent have at least a Bachelors degree.

That's 46 percent less!

When we look at advanced degrees, the gap is even wider: ten percent of the U.S. population over 25-year-old has an advanced degree. Just four percent of the Pacific Islander population can say the same.

That's 60 percent less!

In other words, Pacific Islanders are nearly half-as-likely to receive a Bachelors degree, and far less than half-as-likely to receive an advanced degree, compared to the U.S. population in general. )

Being underrepresented in higher education is one of the things Pacific Islander Americans have in common with African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian and Alaska Natives. But in one very important respect, Pacific Islanders are not likely their underrepresented counterparts: Pacific Islander Americans are excluded from most academic programs for underrepresented minorities.

Tragically, these two problems -- 1.) underrepresentation in higher education, and 2.) exclusion from programs designed to help underrepresented minorities graduate from college --create a vicious cycle for Pacific Islanders. Exclusion from programs that can help them graduate makes it less likely that they will earn a diploma. Lower graduate rates, in turn, means that underrepresentation continues. This leads to fewer Pacific Islander college graduates serving as role models and mentors to friends, family and neighbors.

And of course, it also means that Pacific Islander Americans are less likely to be aware of, or push to get included in, the wonderful higher education scholarships, fellowships, and support programs that help other underrepresented minorities.

The solution - I believe - lies in a different kind of education. Educating Pacific Islanders are others about the programs their promising students should be included in, and educating academic programs for underrepresented minorities about why they should include Pacific Islanders.

We're going to work on that.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The PIA project blog begins!

Mahalo for visiting the Pacific Islander Access (PIA) project's blog, and reading our inagural post. Alongside the "PIA project 101" information we've archived on this site and made available on our more traditionally formatted website (, this blog will go deeper into the issues surrounding the exclusion of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders from academic programs for underrepresented minorities.

We plan to publish posts on a regular basis, providing a mix of:
  • Commentary on current events
  • Information on issues related to the underrepresentation of Pacific Islander Americans in higher education, and
  • Updates on the work of the PIA project and our allies to include Pacific Islanders in those programs

We have a lot of ideas to share, but we also want to hear yours. If you look over the info on our tumblr website and still have questions, or if you have an idea for a topic, please feel free to contact us.

The next post will focus on the twin-problems that the PIA project is out to solve - the underrepresentation of Pacific Islanders and their exclusion from higher education programs for underrepresented minorities.

Me ka ha'a ha'a,