Thursday, April 07, 2011

Saying it with a Graph: "Asian Pacific Islanders" data doesn't represent Pacific Islanders

The last few posts have been about how grouping Pacific Islanders with Asians leads to misleading data and misunderstandings. The most recent post was on why. In this post, I wanted to show the data in a different way.

Using numbers provided this year by the U.S. Census Bureau, here are the 4-year college graduation rates for the general U.S. population (US Av), Pacific Islanders (PI), and Asians. The last bar shows what the grad rate is when you group Pacific Islanders with Asians. As you can see, the graduation rate for "Asian Pacific Islanders" (A/PI) and Asians is almost exactly the same. Meanwhile, Pacific Islander graduation rates is much much lower than the "Asian Pacific Islander" rate -- over three times lower.

As you can see, the "Asian Pacific Islander" stats here are a very bad indicator for what's going on with Pacific Islanders, and anyone who used the API stats to make decisions about Pacific Islanders would be making a mistake.

In addition, the stats clearly reflect that Pacific Islanders are underrepresented: their graduation rate is half of the national average.

Here are the college graduation rates in plain text:

U.S. National Average: 28 percent
Pacific Islander Americans: 14 percent
Asian Americans: 50 percent
"Asian and Pacific Islander Americans:" 48 percent

My two points, which you may have heard before: 1.) data grouping Pacific Islanders and Asians together does not accurately represent Pacific Islanders, and 2.) Pacific Islanders are highly underrepresented in higher education.


How did we get the API data? Not having the exact numbers broken down, we did an estimate using the same data that the Census is using this year. While that release was sent out this year, the data for college graduation was from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, so we pulled the numbers from that survey using's American Fact Finder.

There are two things I want to point out with these numbers. 1.) The American Community Survey is exactly that (a survey), with a margin of error. In other words, it's an estimate, but a scientifically valid one. 2.) Also, these are stats on Pacific Islanders and Asians "alone," which means that it doesn't include multiracial Pacific Islanders or Asians. This is important for all races, but especially Pacific Islanders and Asians, because they are more likely to be multiracial than the general population.

It's also important to mention that these stats don't include people who are 24-years-old or younger. This is standard practice by the census and others when collecting and reporting data on college graduation rates. Doogie Howser MD aside, it makes sense to limit the data collection to people who are old enough to have had a fair chance to complete their higher education.

American Community Survey Stats on Asians and Pacific Islanders "alone" (25-or-older)
Asians = 8,924,706
Pacific Islanders = 265,466
"Asians and Pacific Islanders" = 9,190,172

Asian College Grads = 4,425,164
Pacific Islander College Grads = 28,026
"A/PI College Grads = 4,453,190

Next, to get the "Asian Pacific Islander" graduation rate, we just need to know what percentage 4,453,190 is out of the 9,190,172 people who are either Pacific Islanders of Asians "alone" according to the American Community Survey.

(4,453,190/9,190,172) x 100 = 48.45. In other words, the "A/PI" college graduation rate is 48.45 percent, according to recent Census data.

When more data from the 2010 Census becomes available, we'll be able to provide an update.

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