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 “As” 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
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 one 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
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 25-29, Hispanics are at 15 percent, blacks at 22, whites are at
41 and Asians are at 63 percent.
Bottomline? 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.