On average, the educational aspirations of Asian immigrant children and Asian international students surpass all other students in American schools. While there is some variation within ethnic groups in America, interviews detailed in “The Asian American Achievement Paradox” by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou show an upward educational trajectory for second-generation immigrants.
“Overachievement” by Asian-American students has long been recognized. Considered the “model minority,” both temporary Asian international students and second-generation Asian-American students have long excelled in American schools.
Lee and Zhou define this achievement mindset as a “success frame,” or the general way in which each ethnic culture frames success. This includes both family expectations and how each minority may provide resources for others within their group to achieve that success frame.
American teachers really enjoy having Asian students. When they get a “B” on the first quiz or exam, some Asian students drop a college class to take it over again. Simply, a “B” is an Asian “F.” Nothing less than straight “A's” is acceptable. Success is often framed as entry into the top tier of elite universities — a public university is second choice.
This Asian view focuses on achieving a higher paying job. Medicine, law or engineering are viewed as successful careers. Not teaching. Not police work.
Success is also framed as being a matter of effort, not innate ability. While Asian students overall outperform all other groups, the failure of some of them to hit these super-high targets also gives them the lowest self-esteem of all ethnic groups surveyed. When an Asian student fails to meet ethnic expectations, the sense of failure can result in suicide at the college level — more common in Asia than in the United States — but also not found to any significant extent in students from other cultures. However, these cultural values also result in the lowest rates of delinquency, incarceration and teenage births of all groups.
Asian immigrants to the U.S. are over-selected for high degrees; that is, Asians who come here average higher levels of education than was found on average back in their home countries of China, Vietnam, Korea, etc. In 1970, the Asian population was barely 1 percent of the American population; today it exceeds 6 percent. This growth is due to the influx of Vietnamese refugees following that war, and to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. In addition, nearly all of the U.S. growth in engineering, physics and medical/pharmacy degrees since then can be attributed to Asian American students, or to Asian international students who earn a large proportion of those degrees and are then recruited to remain and work in the United States.
The Asian sub-communities found in larger cities likewise provide after-school resources that are available to both affluent and economically poor Asian students, thereby providing extra help not generated by other ethnic groups. This includes not only after-hour cram schools, but also counseling and networking that directs students down these career paths and makes college entrance easier.
The effect of having your whole ethnic community behind you, encouraging you as a student to achieve high goals, has a tremendous effect on achievement. The high school dropout rate for white students has gone from 9 percent in 1993 to 5 percent in 2014. For Asian students, it was always under 1 percent.
College enrollment of 18- to 24-year-olds in 2014 was 33 percent for blacks, 35 percent for Hispanics, 42 percent for whites and 64 percent for Asians. State and national goals exhort students to achieve a 60 percent college completion rate. Asian students are already beyond that. When it comes to completing a bachelor’s degree within the age bracket of 25 to 29, Hispanics are at 15 percent, blacks at 22, whites are at 41 and Asians are at 63 percent.
Bottom line? If the U.S. reduces Asian immigration, it will reduce a critical supply line of future engineers, doctors, pharmacists and physicists America needs for its future. But Asian students are not the only ethnic group that is moving upward in U.S. schools.
Dr. John Richard Schrock is the editor of the Kansas School Naturalist and former chairman of the Biology Department at Emporia State University.