Recognizing the Critical Importance of AANAPISIs


By Kiran Ahuja


Higher education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy. In this decade, employment in jobs requiring higher education will grow more rapidly than employment in jobs that do not. Of the 30 fastest growing occupations, more than half require postsecondary education. Moreover, a person with a bachelor’s degree or higher makes $32,744 more annually than a person who does not complete high school. Higher education is now the clearest pathway into the middle class. Recognizing the profound differences a college degree can make, President Obama has set a goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

In order to accomplish the President’s goal, we must focus more attention on the low college attendance rate of underserved students in the U.S. Inaccurately perceived by many to be primarily doctors, engineers, and scientists, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are often absent from conversations about equity in education. However, in reality, many AAPIs face significant barriers within education, including limited English and low educational attainment. One in three AAPIs has limited English proficient and only 14.5 percent of Hmong, 13 percent of Laotian, and 18.1 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a bachelor’s degree or higher. As AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.—expected to more than double in number to 47 million by 2060, we must develop, replicate and scale best practices to better serve this student population.

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) play a critical role in fulfilling the President’s 2020 goal. By providing culturally relevant student services, curricular and academic program development, and resource and research opportunities, AANAPISIs pilot best practices ripe for replication and scale. Additionally, AANAPISIs serve 40 percent of all AAPI students, including hundreds of high need, low income learners. That is why supporting and promoting AANAPISIs is essential and why the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are taking concrete steps to remove barriers and support these programs and institutions.

In July, the Department of Education and the White House Initiative took a major step in this direction by clarifying that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and other minority serving institutions delineated under Part F of the Higher Education Act. Now, it is the Initiative’s hope that AANAPISIs will avail themselves of federal grants and other opportunities available to postsecondary institutions enrolling significant numbers of undergraduate minority students.

The Department’s website contains information on available grants and directions on how to apply for them. Also, the Initiative has collaborated with to offer free webinar training sessions, geared toward organizations with limited experience applying for government grants. For more information about online and regional training opportunities, please email us at

The Initiative recognizes AANAPISIs as one of the most promising means of supporting minority students, particularly AAPI students. We remain committed to helping AANAPISIs provide curricular development, research capacity and culturally relevant student services for all their students, many of whom are underserved.

Watch and share this animated video about AANAPISIs and post on your college website.


Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

One thought on “Recognizing the Critical Importance of AANAPISIs

  1. Pingback: Recognizing the Critical Importance of AANAPISIs | CauseHub

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