HomeCampusModel Minority Myth Hurts Chances for Financial Aid for AsAm Students

Model Minority Myth Hurts Chances for Financial Aid for AsAm Students

UC Berkeley
Students relax outside Evans Hall at UC Berkeley

The average Asian American college student has more unmet financial need than any other racial group, according to a recent study by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Asian Americans in this analysis include both American citizens and a small number of non-citizens eligible for financial aid, such as refugees and permanent residents.

Other factors, like mental health can make it even harder for those already struggling to meet the financial demands and academic rigors of college.

Christy Kim, a Korean American student who first entered Macalester College in 2013, has been unable to graduate partially due to a cycle of financial and health issues. “Juggling multiple jobs and my responsibilities as a student takes a toll on my physical and mental health, which is difficult to recover from during a school schedule that doesn’t allow for much flexibility.”

Furthermore, when Kim is not enrolled in school for more than six months, she must begin repaying loans, which she cannot afford. “Now I need a degree solely because I can’t find feasible work to pay off my loans without one.”

Although Macalester College promises to meet “100 percent of demonstrated financial need,” the author of the study, Lauren Walizer, explains that estimating need is a complicated process that often underestimates students’ true financial costs. Research demonstrates that at least one-fifth of colleges underestimate cost of attendance by 20 percent.

Unmet need is defined as the difference between college tuition and a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) plus financial aid that does not have to be repaid (e.g. scholarships, grants).

At public 4-year universities, the average unmet need for all low-income students is $12,792. However, for Asian American students in the same income bracket, that amount reaches $16,756.

Even a few hundred dollars difference in aid can make a significant impact on students, according to Walizer.

“It’s very common to hear about a program that provides as little as $400, yet is able to satisfy enough financial obligation of a student that allows them to remain enrolled in college,” Walizer told AsAmNews.

It is worthy to note that while Asian Americans have the highest dollar amount of unmet financial need, Black Americans experience the highest frequency of unmet need (86% at public 4-year universities). The frequency for Asian Americans (79%) is only slightly higher than average (75%).

These racial disparities are a major reason why author Lauren Walizer says she wanted to publish the study in the first place.

“We support equitable policy solutions to address this issue,” Walizer told AsAmNews. “The challenge is that we don’t have enough information about the cause. Likely, it is the result of many factors.”

One of these causes may be the model minority myth, according to The University Network, which perpetuates that Asian Americans are natural high achievers, whose socio-economic success should be looked up to by other racial minorities.

This trope, which only came into being shortly after World War II to contrast Asian and black communities and mitigate the role that systematic racism has on socio-economic mobility, also falsely portrays Asian Americans as a homogenous group.

In reality, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, Asian Americans are the most “income-stratified,” according to the report. “While some Asian-American subpopulations are as financially secure as Whites, many others live in deep poverty.”

In the past, Rep. Judy Chu has proposed the disaggregation of Asian American demographics to obtain more accurate portrayals of different ethnic groups.    

For instance, Southeast Asians experience higher rates of poverty than the national average, according to CLASP. Although half of all Asian Americans receive at least a bachelor’s degree, only 17 percent of Hmong and Cambodian Americans, 14 percent of Laotian Americans, and 11 percent of Bhutanese Americans reach this level of education.

In order to make higher education more accessible for students, especially the growing population of non-White students, the report suggests an investment in government and college financial aid programs that prioritize students with unmet need.

Walizer argues that this investment will be necessary to secure the future health of the nation. “Equitable access to postsecondary education that is both affordable and high-quality is essential to creating a productive and dynamic economy.”

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