Ten Colleges Awarded Grants to Expand Opportunities for Asian, Pacific Islanders

by Chris Fuchs /  / Updated 
Image: Students fill stadium seats of the State Farm Center during commencement ceremonies for the University of Illinois
Students fill stadium seats of the State Farm Center during commencement ceremonies for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign school of business on May 11, 2013.Jonathan Gibby / for NBC News file

Ten U.S. colleges and universities will receive grants totaling more than $2.9 million to help expand and strengthen educational opportunities for Asian-American and Native American Pacific Islander students, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week.

The grants can be used to improve instruction, facilities, and the quality of academics on campus, according to the Department of Education.

"These funds will enhance the quality of these schools to better prepare Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander students for success in college and careers, by giving them the skills they need to compete in the 21st century, global economy," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.

Four of the 10 colleges and universities to receive federal awards, ranging from $269,023 to $300,000 per grant, were in California. According to the U.S. Census, 14.4 percent of California’s population is Asian, 1.7 percent American Indian and Alaska Native, and 0.5 percent Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.

To qualify for the grants, at least 10 percent of a college or university’s undergraduate population must be Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander, and the school must be eligible for Title III funding. Part of the Higher Education Act enacted in 1965, Title III funds are allocated to assist schools in expanding educational opportunities for minority and low-income students.

RELATED: Report Highlights Higher Education Disparities Within Asian America

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Irvine Valley College, a community college in Orange County that received one of the grants, plans to use the money for an intercultural center for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as art, President Glenn R. Roquemore told NBC News.

Of the 14,964 students enrolled in Irvine Valley College, 28 percent are Asian, according to the school’s website. Roquemore said his school received $1.5 million spread out over five years and will also use that funding for faculty and peer mentoring services, as well as for outreach to Asian-American and Native American Pacific Islander students.

“Although Irvine is oftentimes observed as being fairly wealthy, 50 percent of our students are on what’s called bond waivers, and that means that they actually qualify being in poverty based on federal guidelines,” Roquemore said.

News of the grants comes a week after California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill proposing new categories that Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders could use to identify themselves when providing demographic data that state agencies, boards or commissions are required to collect.

“Dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow,” Brown wrote to the California State Assembly in explaining his decision.

Proponents of the bill have said that offering more options for ancestry and ethnic origin could help policymakers better identify and address issues in higher education and healthcare access particular to certain groups within the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.

RELATED: California Governor Vetoes Bill Aimed at Addressing Disparities in AAPI Communities

In education, wide disparities exist in California among these groups, according to a report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit based in California. While 73 percent of Chinese complete California community college in six years, for instance, only 29 percent of Samoans do the same, the report said.

Betty Hung, policy director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, told NBC News she applauded the Department of Education for providing grants that strengthen and expand educational opportunities for Asian-American, Native American Pacific Islander students.

"In awarding $2.9 million in grants — including to four community colleges in California — the Obama Administration recognizes the significant barriers to educational access and success, including high poverty and low graduation rates, faced by disadvantaged Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander students,” Hung said. “This investment by the Obama administration in educational opportunity and success is really an investment in the future of our students and our nation."