A look at Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islander students

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The total number of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) in U.S. higher education has steadily dropped this decade, especially in two-year institutions, according to a new report.

In the 2016-17 academic year, total NHPI enrollment was 67,845 — a 17 percent decline compared to 2012-13 when the number was 81,956. Among two-year colleges, there was a 30 percent drop over the same period, from 41,210 to 28,870, said the report, which was a collaboration between the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholars and the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Over the same period, the number of NHPI students attending public colleges dropped to 53,885 from 69,393 (a 22 percent decline), while the number who went to a private for-profit rose to 5,740 from 4,092 (a 40 percent increase).

“This is an important finding considering private for-profit institutions have been scrutinized for their low degree completion rates, high tuition, and high proportion of students who are carrying high levels of debt,” the report said.

Is it how data is gathered?

The researchers noted that one explanation for the decline in NHPI student enrollment could be that many of these students identify as multi-racial or multi-ethnic. With half of the NHPI population identifying as multi-racial in the 2010 Census, the new “two or more races” data category in the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDs) may be moving the numbers. For example, there is a significant increase in enrollment for the “two or more races” category, which jumped by about 35 percent between 2012-13 and 2015-16, they said.

As a result, this new data category may disrupt “racial and ethnic trend analysis, which can impact how enrollment trends are being understood by researchers and policymakers,” the report added. For this report, researchers used data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey and IPEDs.

Lower rates in key areas

About 47 percent of the NHPI population has attended college, compared to about 55 percent of the total U.S. population. The proportion of NHPI adults who haven’t enrolled in any postsecondary education is especially high among ethnic sub-groups: 58 percent of Samoans, 57 percent of Tongas, 53 percent of native Hawaiians and 49 percent of Guamanians or Chamorros.

Among those who go to college, persistence and degree attainment is a challenge, said the report, adding that NHPI students have the highest attrition rates of any ethnic sub-group in the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community. A significant portion of Samoans (58 percent), Tongans (54 percent), Native Hawaiians (50 percent) and Guamanians or Chamorros (47 percent) who begin college leave without earning a credential.

A surprising finding for the researchers was that there are more NHPI students enrolled in colleges in the continental U.S. than in higher education institutions in Hawaii or the Pacific Islands. In fact, it was four times higher (53,066 compared to 14,748).

Part of the reason may be a result of the sharp increase in private nonprofits and distance education, they noted. Another reason could be that the NHPI population on the continental U.S. — especially in Arkansas, Alaska, Arizona, Alabama and Nevada — is growing at a faster rate than on Hawaii or the Pacific Islands.

Implications on outcomes

NHPIs are typically included in data about AAPIs, but it’s important to desegregate the data to study the distinctions among this sub-group, which includes more than 20 ethnic groups, the report said. Such information is important in efforts to improve their education outcomes, it added.

“NHPIs have been largely invisible in policy considerations at the federal, state, and local levels, and in the development of campus services and programs,” the report said.

The report highlighted a few colleges with programs designed to support NHPI students. For example, Mt. San Antonio College in California used a grant from the U.S. Education Department’s Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions program to better engage NHPI students in several ways: fale fono (Samoan for house meetings), talking circles, student leadership retreats and more.

Kresge Foundation funded the report.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.