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.


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