Understanding Gaps Among Asian Groups

GAO study points to widely varying educational attainment and income of different nationalities in the United States.
July 27, 2007

Many discussions about affirmative action or demographics in higher education start with the assumption that Asian American students are outperforming everyone else and don't need any help. That view is frustrating to many Asian Americans and some educators who say that -- even if true on average -- it results in too little attention being paid to members of some groups that are not doing well at all educationally.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Thursday that backs up those concerns. The report notes that by most measures Asian Americans have a higher educational attainment than other groups, with almost half of Asian Americans aged 25 or older having a four-year college degree, a percentage far greater than those for white adults (almost one third) or black or Latino adults (less than one fifth). But this overall success, the GAO found, "masks" the realities of many Asian subgroups in educational preparation and attainment.

For example, the report found that half of Southeast Asian high school students are not enrolled in college preparatory programs, more than half of Southeast Asian and Native American and Pacific Islander students are in the lower socioeconomic quartiles, and many Asian groups set aside less money for their children's college education than do members of other racial and ethnic groups.

Educational Attainment and Average Income of Asian-American Groups, 2005

Group % of Adults With at Least 4-Year Degree Average Income
Asian Indian 68% $66,000
Korean 54% $52,000
Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan 54% $48,000
Chinese 53% $56,000
Filipino 48% $46,000
Japanese 44% $59,000
Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai 44% $40,000
Vietnamese 25% $41,000
Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander 17% $38,000
Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong 13% $32,000

The GAO also found significant differences in terms of how much money families from different Asian groups were saving for a child's future college education.

Amount Set Aside for Higher Education by Asian-American Families, by Group

Group None Up to $10,000 $10,001-$20,000 >$20,000
Southeast Asian 12% 73% 4% 8%
Filipino 3% 51% 10% 32%
South Asian 6% 34% 17% 22%
Korean 3% 40% 17% 42%
Chinese 9% 31% 22% 37%
Japanese 6% 41% 23% 27%


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