why are there no asian american colleges?

Puzzle for higher ed folks and organizational theory types: If you look at US higher education, you’ll notice that there are institutions that serve nearly every niche. Rich students , poor students, historically black colleges, tribal colleges, Biblical colleges, Hispanic students, etc. Heck, even the transcendental meditation movement has an accredited school – Mahavishnu University in Iowa.

But I really had a hard time trying to think of a college that was aimed primarily at Asian Americans. Why is that? Did I overlook something? If not, what is it that prevents such a college from existing? According to wiki, there are roughly 18 million Asian Americans. You’d think that at least a few schools would be aimed at them. If nothing else, perhaps an old liberal arts college in Oakland founded in the early 20th century, aimed at helping Asian Americans get jobs, in a way analogous to the HBC’s like the Tuskegee Institute that helped freedmen and their descendants.


  • Cultural – perhaps attitudes toward education somehow make the concept of such an institution seem odd and out of place.
  • Density – outside of the West Coast, maybe they simply weren’t present in large enough number to justify such an institution
  • Cultural heterogeneity – “Asian American” is a catch all label, there’s a lot of groups and no cohesion needed to pull a college together
  • Satisfaction – Maybe Asian Americans simply are satisfied with American institutions
  • Vintage – since the bulk of Asian America is post-1965, they simply haven’t had the time to create such an institution.

Other ideas?

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Written by fabiorojas

July 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

25 Responses

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  1. More hypotheses:

    Adaptation: Asian Americans already have their own niche in American higher education: Computer and Engineering.

    Practicality: What Asian Americans want is prestigious elite schools rather than no-name niche schools. Estabilishing such ones is not easy.



    July 16, 2013 at 12:55 am

  2. Mostly, their has been no mobilization to petition high percentage asian institutions as predominately minority serving institutions. There are many that would chart percentages of Asians comparable to what many HBCU’s and other minority institutions have for their target populations.



    July 16, 2013 at 1:21 am

  3. I believe there are a few, though they also tend to be religious. What about Bethesda Christian University in Anaheim? World Mission University in Los Angeles? Midwest University in St Louis?

    Liked by 1 person


    July 16, 2013 at 2:06 am

  4. More a question than a comment (from outside the US): What about “performance”? The way I understand it, Asian Americans are doing comparativey well in US academia. So why mobilize for a niche? (Especially when you want to do well at already prestigious institutions – see above.)



    July 16, 2013 at 7:49 am

  5. I’m thinking it’s got to be mostly historical, which is not the same thing as time per se. HBCUs originated during reconstruction + segregation when blacks were generally not admitted to mainstream (at the time, read: white) schools, especially in the South where they were heavily concentrated prior to the great migration. In contrast, for as long as we’ve had large numbers of Asians they have been welcome in mainstream schools. (Yes, Espenshade shows that the Asians are less likely to be admitted, but the marginals are so high that on net they are admitted frequently).

    The contrast w Bible colleges is different insofar as they serve an ideological mission and there’s not really such a thing as a distinctive Asian American ideology.

    And Darren is right, if we go just by demographics rather than by mission then UCLA is arguably an HACU.



    July 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm

  6. ps, “the Asians” is an odd construction. I started writing “Espenshade shows that the betas for Asians” then went back and edited it incorrectly. sorry about that.



    July 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm

  7. Note: The “satisfaction” thesis only works for recent time periods. But it is easy to imagine that Asians pre-1950 might feel excluded and thus seek out their own institution.



    July 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

  8. Based on my Japanese great grandparents’ and their children’s pre-1950s behavior I think it was a strong desire to assimilate and an unfounded (in many cases) belief that white Americans would let them assimilate.



    July 16, 2013 at 4:08 pm

  9. Can’t help but think of Ogbu’s voluntary vs. involuntary minority distinction when thinking of your cultural hypothesis in the original post. Many Asian immigrants came to this country with the mindset of assimilating into the American mainstream through established means, doing it the “American” way. While later generations have perhaps moved past this mindset, several historical phases have served to keep this original framework in place.

    A) the historical backlash against Asians around WWII probably stymied any momentum towards any institutions bearing a panethnic label across several domains, let alone higher ed.

    B) Decades later, a wild swing in the other direction via the model minority stereotype served to reinforce this framework, albeit not through pressure from mainstream America, but through other minority/oppressed groups who may have seen Asian American founded institutions as detrimental to broader civil rights agenda. It was easy at this time to see Asians as the “selfish” minority.

    As for today, Asian Americans straddle an awkward position in the racial hierarchy, accepted on certain dimensions but perpetual outsiders on others (as several others have argued). Still, dynamics of density and satisfaction are changing as the Asian population grows and Asian groups as a whole are beginning to span the entirety of the SES spectrum. Both the need and niche for such institutions is growing.



    July 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm

  10. A little bit of history is needed here. Instead of assimilation, how about racism? The Issei were already done with education, so the Nisei were the first generation to pursue higher ed among Japanese Americans. Because of widespread racism and fear mongering, JAs on the west coast were, of course, put in concentration camps. There was no ability to create an Asian American college in these far flung concentration camps. Who would teach those courses? JAs made a concerted effort to send the Nisei to colleges in the midwest and east. Indeed, there was an organization formed for this very purpose. Keep in mind that immigration was blocked from Asia until 1965.

    Post 1965, Asian Americans have done quite well in higher education. The average Asian American candidate for college entrance is much stronger than the average white applicant. Hence, Asian Americans are over-represented in elite institutions. What pressure would create the need for an Asian American college in this case? Moreover, there are a number of major universities where Asian are the largest demographic group (and sometimes the outright majority).

    According to one article, here are the numbers:
    UCLA: 40%
    UC Berkely: 43%
    UCSD: 50%
    UCI: 54%

    These are de facto Asian American colleges/universities.

    I would predict that Asian American college would be pursued to the extent that more universities pursue affirmative action for whites. For example, UC-Berkeley’s new policy of discounting gpa and test scores has the effect of reducing the percentage of Asian Americans, no change for other racial minorities, but dramatically increases the proportion white.



    July 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm

  11. HBCUs emerged from segregation and generally have a clear sense of historical mission and identity. HSIs (Hispanic-Serving Institutions) emerged from a definition in federal law, and as a result, often have less of a sense of mission and identity, which is often evolving. The student populations are also less homogenous at HSIs, although all MSIs have some diversity in their student populations.

    Now on to your actual question — there ARE Asian-Serving Institutions. “Asian-serving institutions – institutions in which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (API) students constitute at least 10% of the total undergraduate enrollment.” This includes UCLA, for example. The federal acronym is, I kid you not, AANAPISI — Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. There is not a clear sense, yet, about what the identity of these institutions as MSIs will be.

    Check out Julie Park & Robert Teranishi’s chapter in Understanding Minority-Serving Institutions (SUNY 2008)


    Mike Bastedo

    July 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm

  12. There is also the Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) Program, which takes a stab at addressing underserved Asian American subpopulations. However, only about half of eligible institutions have applied for designation, which would make them eligible for federal funding.



    July 16, 2013 at 5:16 pm

  13. For those who have said several universities (e.g. UCLA) already function as de facto AA colleges/universities, to what degree is the university administration at these schools reflective of the Asian student population? I imagine that representation of Asians among the more influential positions at such schools still lacks far behind rates of black administration at HCBU’s, or other minority admin at minority serving institutions.



    July 16, 2013 at 7:52 pm

  14. A recent example: Princeton, which is roughly 20% Asian (second to only Whites and double the next minority group), just recently named David Lee as University Provost, the first time an Asian American has held the post.



    July 16, 2013 at 7:55 pm

  15. Another hypothesis is that Asian-Americans want to attend the most prestigious graduate schools, so their primary criterion for an undergraduate institution is whether it increases the probability of getting into a top graduate schools.


    Chris M

    July 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  16. To get at what Samuel is talking about, the NCES Digest of Education Statistics 2012 points out that among faculty, 8.8% of all full-time faculty are Asian or Pacific Islander (whites are chillin at 74%). Among full professors, only 8% of all Asian and Pacific Islander faculty are full profs, and 8.6% are tenured. Of all full-time administrators (we’re talking execs, admins, and manger-level positions), only 3.5% of those positions are held by Asians or Pacific Islanders (whites held 77.9% of all admin positions).

    So, if we take that at face value, even when considering institutions with large numbers of Asian and Pacific Islander students we’re more likely to get the profile of Princeton’s admin positions…a fairly homogenous sea of whiteness. Going down to full and tenured faculty, these numbers are quite low as well (as is found for most racial and ethnic minority faculty groups at varying types of institutions), and are most likely even lower depending on the department/program and the curricular structure of the institution.



    July 16, 2013 at 11:17 pm

  17. @Samuel & hillbilly: A sea of male whiteness. 25% of college presidents are women. This percentage is inflated by 2-year colleges, where 33% of presidents are women. Women have earned the majority of BAs for two decades. (If we’re going to define universities by the modal populations they serve, UCLA was probably a women’s university before it was an Asian American university.)

    My point is merely that Asian Americans aren’t the only large demographic group that is underrepresented in the highest levels of university administration relative to student enrollments, current or historical. I’d guess that push toward running universities like businesses and the increasing reliance on tuition dollars, industry partnerships, and alumni donations perpetuates the old-white-maleness of college presidents.

    BTW, the American Council on Education (via <a href="; this Chronicle article, may be behind a paywall) reports that between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of [racial] minority presidents decreased from 14.6 to 13.6%. N=”more than” 1660. According to the Chronicle summary, this is driven by a decline in the percentage of Hispanic presidents, from 4.5% to 3.8%. It doesn’t report trends for Asian Americans, nor whether ACE codes Asian Americans as minorities.



    July 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

  18. interesting that no one has mentioned Jews, who faced many of the same issues of discriminatory quotas a few decades back that asians face today. aside from yeshivas (were there even many back then?), they also had no institutions similar to HSBCs. i think it’s more than just a drive for assimilation. Jews then and asians today both saw/see the status value and future economic worth of elite higher ed, and are admitted in high enough numbers (though deflated because of discrimination) that there was no point in setting up an alternate educational system.



    July 18, 2013 at 5:02 am

  19. @syed: To the contrary, there are a number of Jewish oriented higher ed institutions, like Yeshiva U and Touro College. That’s what make the gap for Asians more interesting.



    July 18, 2013 at 5:07 am

  20. Uhm, Brandeis? Take a look at its history.



    July 18, 2013 at 5:47 am

  21. Asian American students did not have quite the same history of outright exclusion from higher education. By the 1870s, many elite private colleges were specifically recruiting international students from Asian to enroll; during the period of Asian immigration exclusion, individual students were still able to enter the country (indeed, the Japanese-American “Gentleman’s Agreement” restricting immigration specifically excluded scholars). Given that colleges had already committed to educating Asian international students, therefore, it was that much harder for them to develop a logic excluding Asian Americans. The experience, then, was much more like that of Jews, who had a harder time gaining admission through the middle part of the 20th century due to the requirements for well-rounded students, geographic profiling, etc. With the possible exception of Brandeis, which as a prior commenter noted has a peculiar history, most Jewish institutions were founded with more of a theological, faith-based perspective and would never have been appealing to the bulk of secular Jewish students, who were more likely to enroll in urban public colleges or elite privates. Asian Americans have followed a similar pattern, and those who want to make higher education more responsive to the needs of Asian American students have generally focused on issues like Asian American studies or affirmative action for those Asian American groups experiencing concentrated disadvantage (like the Hmong).



    July 18, 2013 at 6:11 pm

  22. By “Asian American”, do you mean “East Asian American”? Arabs, Jews and Indians are also Asians.

    I ask because, unlike Hispanic or African Americans, which are terms that define groups that are characterized by a common history in the United States, “Asian American” seems more a blanket term than anything else. Could the lack of a common identity in this wide group explain the non-existence of this type of college? Please correct me if I’m wrong in any of my statements.



    July 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  23. Although I’m hardly an expert, I guess my longstanding service with my campus’s Asian American Studies program and my teaching of a cross-listed course with hiI before, but the last comment called this to my attention.) The historic answer (before 1965) is that Asian immigrants and Americans of Asian descent on the mainland were mostly focused on not being kicked out of the country. At the end of WWII, most Asians in the US were of Japanese descent and were still very fearful after the internment. The situation is very different in Hawaii, where there ARE Asian and Asian American campuses, but (and I don’t actually have first-hand experience so I’m hypothesizing) because Asian-descent people are the majority in Hawaii, they don’t have the minority dynamics.In Hawaii, all the schools are Asian schools, just like in the US, most schools are HWCU (–historically White Colleges and Universities).

    Post-1965 change in the immigration law, and into the present period, the majority of Asian people in the US are immigrants and immigrant dynamics are different from minority dynamics. Also as many people have said, the “Asians” in the US, particularly the immigrants or children of immigrants, typically reject the umbrella label “Asian” and find it offensive. So there isn’t the organizational or identify basis of establishing an “Asian” college.

    The historic origins of the HBCUs and American Indian colleges are rooted in past structures of overt discrimination, segregation, oppression, and resistance. Today’s schools are operating as the inheritors of this specific history.

    I don’t know of any Mexican colleges predating WWII. Correct me if someone knows different. I think Mexican-American elites sent their kids to Mexico for education of they wanted them educated in Spanish, or intermarried with and formed a joint Mexcian-Anglo elite in some areas that, presumably, spoke English. The category “Hispanic” rather than Mexican (or Puerto Rican) has no meaning that I know of until after World War II.



    July 21, 2013 at 7:28 pm

  24. testing. I just wrote a long comment that disappeared. seeing if this one shows up.



    July 21, 2013 at 7:29 pm

  25. […] week, I asked: why are there no Asian American colleges, in the same way we have tribal colleges or HBCUs? A few […]


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