Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pacific Islander Americans: the Missing Underrepresented Minority

Earlier this week, McClatchy News published an article on underrepresented minority graduation rates at different universities. The article was based on a report by the Education Trust, which pulled from data made available by College Results Online. The tweet-sized summary is this: some schools are doing much better (or worse) than others at graduating underrepresented minorities.

I think it's terrific that McClatchy is doing an article on underrepresented minorities, and that the Education Trust and College Results Online are paying attention to this issue. After all, the U.S. Census estimates that minorities will comprise over half of the U.S. population in a generation. With the exception of Asians, all of these minorities are underrepresented in higher education. (In related news, Brookings blogged earlier this month that minorities now make up over half of the nation's 3-year-old population.) If our higher education system doesn't figure out how to recruit, retain, and graduate the groups that will make up half of the American population in the coming decades, that's not just a system that's failing minorities: that's just plain failure.

There is a shortcoming to this article, which I'm referring to as: the case of the missing underrepresented minority.
  • Check out the article, and you'll see that when the author talks about underrepresented minorities, she focuses on"black and Latino students," and mentions "Native Americans" once. (LINK)
  • Check out the press release from the Education Trust and you'll see that they define underrepresented minority to mean "African American, Latino, and Native American." (LINK)
  • And if you go to College Results Online and do an advanced search for graduation rates by race and ethnicity, you'll be able to search for the following groups: "Black, Asian, Latino, Native American, White, Underrepresented Minority." (LINK)
Each step of the way, Pacific Islanders are missing from this equation. Pacific Islanders are not included in the article, not included in the Education Trust's definition of underrepresented, and not included at all in the College Results Online list of racial and ethnic groups. Of course, as I've mentioned before, Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in higher education. Also, Pacific Islanders are a distinct racial group, recognized by the federal government's policy on collecting racial and ethnic data.

In order to solve a problem, you need to know that it exists. Now, I don't think any of the people or groups I mentioned are trying to stop people from realizing that Pacific Islanders are underrepresented -- they probably don't know any better. Still, the fact remains that until Pacific Islanders are included in discussions about underrepresented minorities, it is unlikely that Pacific Islanders will be included in most efforts to help underrepresented minorities.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Race Remixed

I somehow missed this article when it came out two weeks ago, but two paragraphs into this New York Times piece on racial and ethnic data collection, I knew I wanted to highlight it in a short blog post. The article, "Race Remixed: Counting by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers," is a good introduction to the complexities of modern efforts to accurately count an increasingly diverse and multiracial nation.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention Pacific Islander Americans, but it does introduce a number of important facts. They include:
  • The federal government actually has a standard for racial and ethnic data collection;
  • While race and ethnicity are concepts that are nearly-universally known, different group collect and report racial and ethnic data differently;
  • Older methods of racial data collection that don't account for people of more than one race are growing increasingly outdated.
If I had to pull from just one part of the article it would be this early paragraph, which explains that how people are categorized by race and ethnicity "...might seem trivial except that statistics on ethnicity and race are used for many important purposes. These include assessing disparities in health, education, employment and housing, enforcing civil rights protections, and deciding who might qualify for special consideration as members of underrepresented minority groups."

Unless minority groups -- including Pacific Islanders -- are properly counted, Americans will not know whether our nation is making progress against the types of disparities the article mentions. And while counting people properly will not solve these problems alone, good data is necessary for good decisions.

Of course, this comes back to Pacific Islanders and their access to underrepresented minority scholarships and fellowships. As I'll explain in an upcoming post or two, the way Pacific Islanders have been categorized with Asian Americans has masked the true needs of Pacific Islanders, including their level of underrepresentation in higher education.

Here's a link to the article: LINK