SEARAC strongly supports the ASPIRE Act, a bipartisan education equity bill introduced yesterday by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA). The ASPIRE Act aims to increase low-income students’ access to post-secondary education and raise graduation rates for all students by setting bare-minimum standards for access and completion for colleges participating in federal loan programs. The bill would incentivize colleges, including minority-serving institutions, to make sure more low-income students are enrolling and completing their degrees. This would help close equity gaps for all students, including Southeast Asian American students who face multiple barriers to higher education.
Southeast Asian American students have some of the lowest education attainment rates in the country. Only 14.5% Cambodians, 13.9% Hmong, 13.4% Lao, and 20.4% Vietnamese American adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to all Asian Americans at 29.9% and the overall U.S. population at 19.3%.  Poverty deters many Southeast Asian American students from pursuing a post-secondary education because of high tuition and non-tuition costs. 15.4% of Cambodian, 21.7% of Hmong, 11.4% of Lao, and 13.7% of Vietnamese Americans live below the poverty line, compared to all Asian Americans at 8.5% and the overall U.S. population at 10.0%.
The ASPIRE Act does not mandate specific improvement strategies. We recommend that institutions, at a minimum, adopt an improvement strategy that strengthens data-driven efforts to increase graduation rates and low-income students’ access to a post-secondary education. Collecting disaggregated race and ethnic data on all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students can help achieve this goal for AAPI students. This will help institutions gain a better understanding of their AAPI students and better target resources to support these students to complete their education.
We applaud Senators Coons and Isakson for introducing a policy solution to stand up for vulnerable students, including Southeast Asian Americans and students from refugee, immigrant, and low-income communities.
Read Sen. Coons’ press release quoting SEARAC’s executive director.
 2016 1-year estimates, American Community Survey, US Census Bureau