04/17/2014 02:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2014

New Report Arms Minority Serving Institutions With Relevancy-Focused Data

This post was co-authored with Thai-Huy Nguyen.

A recent report published by the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) on three Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) marks a seminal shift in our understanding of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The report is based on the first empirical study to longitudinally and rigorously capture and analyze the potential effects of grant-funded interventions on several outcomes at MSIs: transition from developmental to college level courses, credit accumulation, course performance, persistence from one academic term to the next, degree attainment, and transfer from two- to four-year institutions.

Minority Serving Institutions qualify for two major federal benefits: 1) They are given a federal designation that reflects their historical and contemporary commitment to both racial minority and low-income students and qualifies them for 2) grants to support programs and practices that support the achievement of their target student population. For several decades, MSIs have benefited from this unique line of financial support. But when cuts are made to postsecondary education, unlike many well-funded majority institutions, MSIs become the target of constant criticisms used to justify reductions in their federally (and at times, state) funded support. The findings from this new report by CARE and APIASF arm MSIs, and AANAPISIs, specifically, with empirical data to defend their relevance and justify greater support.

The new study examines three community college AANAPISIs, which serve large numbers of low-income Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the results demonstrate the continued and constant relevance of MSIs:

City College of San Francisco (CA)

The AANAPISI STEM Program was created to increase the presence and improve the successes of AAPI students in STEM majors by providing an official space and a series of student services that addressed common academic and financial challenges. As compared to their AAPI counterparts, who were not enrolled in this special program, students "attempted more academic credits per term... which shortened their time to completion, enrolled in more academically rigorous coursework, and had a higher transfer rate to four-year institutions" (p. 4).

De Anza College (Cupertino, CA)

With a focus on improving the reading and writing skills of their AAPI population, the AAPI-focused learning community, Readiness and Success in College-Level English, was developed for students at the developmental English stage. In addition to the array of support services, this learning community was anchored in Asian American literature courses, an idea that grew out of the belief that student learning and engagement would improve if students were exposed to curriculum that centralized their histories and traditions. De Anza College witnessed exceptional success. Compared to similar AAPI students, who were not enrolled in the program, students in the learning community "were more likely to transition from developmental to college-level English, to pass their college-level English course and accomplished the transition in less time, and earn an associate's degree" (p. 3).

South Seattle Community College (WA)

With students in developmental English struggling to make the transition to college-level courses, South Seattle also created a learning community for English Language Learners. Students in this program were supported by a wide network of staff, faculty and "peer navigators" who monitored and tracked students' progress inside and outside the classroom. Compared to AAPI students not enrolled in the learning community, students "were more likely to transition from development to college-level courses, had a higher rate of persistence in the term following the intervention, and were more likely to earn an associate's degree" (p. 4).

But beyond the positive influence these programs have had on their students, these are not -- in our mind -- the most important finding from this new study. The results of these evaluations were used to determine the potential of these programs to assist even more students if they were bought up to scale. According to the report, if each institutions' programs were bought up to scale -- meaning, if more funding was provided -- the impact would be quite significant with improvements (based on passing, persistence and transfer rates) ranging from 59 to 146 percent of their target population. We are led to ask two questions: Why don't we give the institutions that know how to improve outcomes for low-income and minority students more funds? And, why don't we look to these same institutions as models for national efforts to increase attainment among low-income and minority students?

The lesson from this new report is quite simple: MSIs have a measured pulse on the challenges and needs of their students, and they deserve greater financial consideration if they are expected to contribute to the health of our nation. Research on MSIs must continue in the direction of this report by advancing empirical studies that inform evidence-based practices and policies.