New Federal Guidance on Promoting Diversity and Reducing Racial Isolation in K-12 Schools and Higher Education Benefits Southeast Asian American Students

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The United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice jointly issued new federal guidance to provide a roadmap for K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to leverage the benefits of educational diversity to achieve high quality, inclusive educational opportunities for all students on Dec. 2, 2011.

The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) applauds this new guidance that provides tremendous opportunities for institutions to serve the educational needs of Southeast Asian American and other underserved students.

The guidance makes clear that the nation’s K-12 schools and colleges can use race in a variety of ways to assemble diverse student bodies and improve the quality of education for every student. The new guidance also provides concrete suggestions that K-12 schools and colleges can pursue in order to enhance social cohesion, reduce racial and economic isolation, and improve the quality of education for every student. The guidance for colleges and universities provides examples for a range of approaches to achieving diversity, including admissions procedures, development of pipeline programs, recruitment and outreach initiatives, and support programs (including mentoring, tutoring, and retention).

“At the K-12 level, too many of our students attend racially and economically isolated schools, and contrary to the ‘model minority myth’ – a misconception that all Asian Americans excel academically and face few obstacles – Southeast Asian American and Pacific Islander students remain underrepresented within higher education,” said Quyen Dinh, education policy advocate at SEARAC. Educational disparities within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are highlighted when educational outcomes are disaggregated by subgroup.

For example, according to the American Community Survey, in comparison to over 86% of the overall Asian American population who holds a high school degree or higher, disaggregated data reveals that this is true for only 67% of Cambodian, 65% of Hmong, 68% of Laotian, and 70% of Vietnamese Americans aged 25 and over. In California, a 2010 report found that over a four-year period, one-fifth of Pacific Islander students in grades 9-12 are estimated to drop out. This guidance is a powerful advocacy tool for Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities to voice the needs for their students to be included in diversity policies at educational institutions.

SEARAC supports the Department of Education and Department of Justice in the issuance of this guidance and is ready to work with both agencies to ensure that this guidance acts to alleviate educational barriers that still exist for many Southeast Asian Americans and other underrepresented communities.

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