By Irfan Shariff
Northwest Asian Weekly
In October 2008, the U.S. Department of Education designated South Seattle Community College as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) by awarding it a two-year $2.4 million grant. Native American Pacific Islanders are Pacific Islanders indigenous to the area, such as those in Samoa and Guam.
According the to Department of Education, “The purpose of the … program is to support institutions of education in their effort to increase their self-sufficiency by improving academic programs, institutional management, and fiscal stability.” Eligibility for the program requires that at least 10 percent of enrolled undergraduate students be Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander.
According to May Lukens, the South Seattle’s AANAPISI project director, 24 percent of students at the school’s main campus identify themselves as APIs.
Alongside schools like the University of Maryland, College Park, City College of San Francisco, and University of Hawaii at Hilo, South Seattle became one of six U.S. institutions of higher education to be chosen for this inaugural grant, which was made possible by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) of 2007. The CCRAA has also endowed programs like Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI). It has also increased certain federal aid allowances for students.
“We let people know what the requirements were for the other categories,” said Mark Mitsui, vice president of student services at South Seattle, who will take on his new role as president of North Seattle Community College beginning July 1.
For example, HSI requires 25 percent enrollment of the target populations, while the HBCU program requires 40 percent Black enrollment, said Mitsui.
“The API community is the largest population in our school … so it made sense [that we applied],” he said.
Along with the AANAPISI grant, South Seattle has also been the recipient of three other federal grants through the TRIO program, which includes the Upward Bound program known for providing high school students access to college coursework.
“South Seattle is one of the most diverse colleges in the Washington state higher education system,” said Mitsui. With this in mind, he initially began work in September 2007 to create an advisory committee with plans to form a strategic plan to reach out to underserved API communities. When he heard about new CCRAA programs created in March 2008, he brought on Lukens to help direct the project. Much of the groundwork had already been laid out for such a program.
“We had a short time frame [to apply for the grant], but Mark had everything lined up,” said Lukens.
One of the key reasons for creating an API advisory committee and introducing the AANAPISI program was to address the model minority myth. “The model minority myth posits that API are over-represented in higher education, that they all have high incomes and therefore don’t need any help,” Mitsui said.
According to Mitsui and Lukens, research shows that many API college attendees are first-generation and low-income students.
“What we found was that there were API communities that are struggling,” he said.
For example, Mitsui compared the Cambodian American community in White Center with the API community in Bellevue. While Bellevue APIs have a bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 62 percent, White Center APIs have only 8.5 percent.
“To assume that they’re all like Bellevue means we don’t get resources to help White Center,” he said.
The program has four specific goals in mind: improve the API freshman experience, increase transition from ESL classes to college coursework, improve retention rates, and improve transfer and graduation rates. The program also includes the creation of a virtual API resource center, as well as two new associate degrees, one in API studies and one in elementary education.
Velma Veloria, a former state representative, co-taught a continuing education class entitled Political Empowerment for the Rest of Us this spring along with Alice Coil.
“The AANAPISI program staff were with us from beginning to end and are now asking us to duplicate the program at North Seattle Community College,” said Veloria.
“To the extent that AANAPISI can provide that step by recruiting and making people like me comfortable in viewing themselves with higher education degrees … I will whole heartedly support,” said Veloria.
The AANAPISI program, initially scheduled to end September 2010, has since been extended another year, utilizing no extra funds, said Lukens.
“In order to address our specific API populations’ needs, we spent much of the first year working with the campus community to develop strategies for piloting. … Many of our strategies were piloted this fall. It has been too early to know how effective they are long term,” said Lukens.
“As we’re building the capacity to serve APIs, we’re also building the capacity to serve other communities,” said Lukens. “What we offer is available to all students.” ♦
Irfan Shariff can be reached at email@example.com.