JUNE 15, 2019



Filipinos Making Gains in Higher Education



Glass half-full or half-empty – this could be the best way to look at Filipino-Americans and higher education in Hawaii.

The optimistic outlook is that progress is taking place. Four-year graduation rates for Filipino students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have reached record highs. From 2010 to 2018, the four-year graduation rates for first-time freshmen increased from 13.8 percent to 37.7 percent for Filipino students at UH-Manoa.

2018 was also a record-year for graduating Filipino medical students at UH Manoa John A Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).

Also, while in 2010 Filipinos represented only 7.7 percent of the total student population enrolled at UH-Manoa, the freshman class of 2018 at UH-Manoa is 11.8 percent Filipino, a big jump in 8 years.

Now for the glass half-empty perspective, as the second largest ethnic group in the state at 26 percent, Filipinos remain underrepresented. Only 17 percent of Filipinos in Hawaii have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Compare that number to Caucasians at 42 percent and Japanese Americans at 35 percent. At the graduate level at UH Manoa, the number is much lower at 4 percent.

Still, UH President and UH M?noa Interim Chancellor David Lassner is pleased with the progress made. “We are most proud of the graduation rate increase among Native Hawaiians and Filipinos. These two ethnic groups were long ago identified as underserved when it comes to higher education and we have worked hard to increase their enrollment and college success,” he said.

Dr. Celina Macadandang Hayashi, who was a guest speaker at a recent UH-Manoa graduation ceremony for Filipino graduates (called FilGrad) said, “My grandparents are my reason why I’m able to stand before you today as a doctor. They will continue to help me become an effective family physician as they have taught me the importance of treating everyone I encounter with compassion.”

Dr. Hayashi’s grandparents emigrated to Maui from Ilocos Norte in 1946. Her desire to excel in education for her family is a typical goal for Filipinos as education is highly valued and promoted in Filipino families. But often the high cost of higher education becomes a limiting factor.

Cost is a hurdle

Dr. Amy Agbayani, UH-Manoa emeritus assistant vice chancellor for student diversity who has worked at UH-Manoa for over four decades helping underrepresented groups get access to higher education, explains: “there are multiple reasons offered to explain Manoa underrepresentation at the undergraduate level and graduate level, but I think a major reason is cost and not academic qualifications.

“This is a problem for all students from working class families. Filipino families, particularly immigrant and first generation families, see tuition at Manoa as a significant immediate barrier (compared to community college cost). They also feel pressure to work as soon as possible to obtain money for themselves and their families. Paying for higher tuition and extra years to complete a bachelor’s, graduate school or professional school competes with the need for immediate but lower-paying jobs,” said Agbayani.

She said students and their parents understand undergraduate or graduate degrees will pay more over a lifetime. Some experts estimate college degree workers will increase income by more than a million dollars than those without a college degree.

Even knowing this, Agbayani says, “too many Filipino students work long hours or full time jobs to meet their immediate needs in a state where the cost of living is one of the highest in the nation.”

Changing jobs market could be beneficial to Filipinos

At the community college level, Filipinos are well represented and are among the highest groups in associate degree holders. While obtaining an associate’s might not carry the prestige or income levels of some professional degrees, today’s job market is promising for select associate programs that many Filipinos pursue.

Completing automotive or electrician programs at community colleges can land graduates good paying jobs. There are apprenticeship and training programs in construction and carpentry at the community colleges. The Allied Health majors at community colleges are among the most competitive to get into and pay well upon completing.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor lists the income and job growth of some of the Allied Health occupation that require only an associate degree: Radiation Therapist ($80,160, 14 percent growth), Diagnostic Medical Sonographer ($69,650, 26.4 percent growth), Occupational Therapy Assistant ($59,010, 42.7 percent growth), Dental Hygienist ($72,910, 18.6 percent growth), and many others like Physical Therapist Assistant, Cardiovascular Technologist.

Lizzette Martin, a third-generation Filipino-American and graduate at UH-Manoa’s School of Nursing, says she knew a few students who started out at the community college taking nursing classes.

Martin said she started at UH-Manoa, but many of her classmates who began at community colleges went on to get a bachelor’s in nursing from other schools like Hawaii Pacific University and Chaminade. A few got into the UH-Manoa nursing department.

“Truth is there are many holders of advanced degrees not able to find good jobs. I am not endorsing that Filipinos should settle for lesser degrees, but to choose a major wisely, at whatever level they may be -- associate, bachelor, or advanced degrees,” said Martin.

“In today’s job market, finding good jobs really depends on what your major is. So to talk about an underrepresentation of Filipinos in higher education in advanced degree programs, it is not necessarily a bad thing if Filipinos are going after very applicable associates degrees like those in Allied Health or some of the higher paying blue-collar professions, for example.”

Martin believes millennial generation Filipino-Americans are becoming more educated than their parents’ generation. Statistics do show an upward trend.

“All my cousins (millennial generation) have either already graduated from a university or are currently at one. In my family in my generation, we have graduates with advanced degrees in engineering, education, business. My cousin who just graduated from UC Berkley will be going to medical school.”

She says she is optimistic about Filipinos and them meeting their higher education goals. Young Filipinos are practical about what the job market demands.

Hawaii Filipinos going to the mainland for college

Martin added, “I think the underrepresentation of Filipinos in higher education could be a little misleading because many Filipino millennials who grew up in Hawaii choose to go to the mainland for college.

“So Hawaii-born Filipino millennials are getting higher education, but many of us are leaving the islands. My family is a good example, only two of us stayed while the rest of my cousins, six of them, left for mainland universities, and many of my high school classmates also left the island.”

“Soft” data (survey based) from the U.S. Census supports Martin’s observation. According to the U.S. Census 2010, Filipinos nationally are actually represented well in higher education: 37.4 percent of Filipinos over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree and 29.3 percent have an associate’s degree.

This is about double the percentage of Hawaii’s data on Filipinos in higher education.

The Census data could suggest that Filipino-Americans on the mainland are higher educated than those in Hawaii. The data would also account for Hawaii Filipinos who left to get their education on the mainland and also include those Philippine-educated Filipinos who now reside in the U.S.


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