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AAPI College Choice: The Best Universities for Economic Mobility

These AANAPISI schools offer a higher payoff without limiting access for students

Taylor Nichols Written By: Taylor Nichols
Published: May 3, 2022
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Key Insights:

  • Harmful stereotypes like the "model minority" myth mean many Asian American and Pacific Islander students don't get the support they need in college
  • We highlighted schools recognized for serving AAPI communities where alumni see a higher payoff compared to other bachelor's graduates in the state
  • While California takes the lead with 4 colleges, schools in New York, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois, and Minnesota also prove to be solid choices for AAPI students

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) play a critical role in higher education for a complex group of students. The term AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a massive category that encompasses more than 50 unique ethnicities.

Because the AAPI community is so large and diverse, many of the unique difficulties faced by some Asian Americans are obscured by the success of others. The model minority myth — the stereotype that all Asian Americans are naturally good in school, work hard, and are successfully living the American Dream — significantly harms many people within the AAPI community.

Many Asian American and Pacific Islander students who need extra support in school often get overlooked because of the model minority myth, including low-income and first generation students. AANAPISIs play a key role in providing additional support. Schools may offer mentorship programs, academic assistance, career counseling, and other resources specifically for AAPI students.

What is an AANAPISI and Why Would Students Want to Attend One?

Colleges that serve AAPI communities were not recognized as Minority-Serving Institutions by the federal government until 2007. Today, schools where Asian American and Pacific Islander students make up at least 10% of the student body are designated as Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) and have access to federal funding to help better serve their communities. More than 150 schools qualify for AANAPISI status.

There are a lot of reasons why students from AAPI communities might want to attend an AANAPISI. Colleges that serve diverse student bodies tend to have more targeted support programs, and that is true of AANAPISI schools as well.

Many colleges with the designation receive federal grant dollars to fund programs created specifically to support Asian American and Pacific Islander students through their college experience. That often includes academic support, career counseling, and mentorship programs. This is especially critical for students who are first generation college students or come from lower income families.

AANAPISIs and Economic Mobility

We looked at the best AANAPISI schools for economic mobility to highlight four-year colleges that offer strong salary outcomes for graduates, while simultaneously serving AAPI students and those from lower income families.

The Best AANAPISI Universities for Economic Mobility

School Median Salary State Salary Threshold Financial Payoff

University of Washington - Tacoma


$60,923 $53,976


Rutgers University - Newark


$61,134 $54,550


University of Illinois at Chicago


$57,333 $51,534


San Jose State University


$59,234 $53,976


New York Institute of Technology


$58,178 $53,976


California State Polytechnic University - Pomona


$57,016 $53,976


Mount Saint Mary’s University


$56,172 $53,976


California State University - East Bay


$54,588 $53,976


Benedictine University


$51,737 $51,534


Metropolitan State University


$50,892 $50,692


This list of the top AANAPISIs for economic mobility recognizes schools that have strong student outcomes while offering accessible higher education options and serving more students from lower-income families than other universities. We evaluated schools based on:

  • Serving the AAPI Community: Each school on this list qualifies for AANAPISI designation, meaning at least 10% of the student body identifies as AAPI.
  • Alumni Salary: Each school on this list has a higher median alumni salary than the median for bachelor's graduates living in the same state.
  • Accessibility: All of these schools accept at least 50% of students who apply.
  • Economic Mobility: We focused on schools where at least 40% of students are Pell Grant recipients, which most often go to undergraduate students whose family income is $30,000 or less per year. More than half of Pell recipients come from families with a household income below $20,000.

Many of these schools also serve a high rate of Hispanic and Latinx students, and are located in states with large AAPI communities, including Washington, California, New York, and Illinois.


University of Washington - Tacoma

Located south of Seattle, the University of Washington's Tacoma campus is the number one AAPI-serving university for economic mobility. UW-Tacoma is a public university with strong student outcomes and a high level of accessibility for students. It has a high acceptance rate of 86%, a lower annual net cost compared to other universities, and 45% of UW-Tacoma students are Pell recipients. Median earnings for UW-Tacoma graduates are nearly $7,000 above the median for a bachelor's degree in Washington, likely thanks in part to its high rate of STEM students. Top fields of study include computer and information science and business.


Rutgers University - Newark

Rutger's Newark campus ranks second, where alumni earn $6,500 over the median for bachelor's graduates in New Jersey. The university serves a high rate of students from lower income brackets, with 59% of the student body receiving the Pell grant. The Newark campus has an acceptance rate of 63% and an annual net price of $22,431. Business is by far the most popular field for Rutgers-Newark graduates, with 47% of the 2020 class earning their degree in business, management, marketing, and related fields.


University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois' Chicago campus is home to a diverse student body, including more than 6,000 AAPI students. The public university has a high acceptance rate of 75%, and more than half of students who enroll use the Pell grant to help pay for their education. Alumni tend to see positive outcomes with their degrees, earning a median of $5,800 more than other bachelor's graduates in Illinois. Just 3.1% of students who borrow from the federal government default on their loans, another indicator that UIC students tend to fare well after graduation. UIC is highly popular for STEM majors, which likely helps boost median earnings. However, the university's most popular majors are in healthcare, with 24% of students earning their degrees in health professions. UIC has been the recipient of multiple AANAPISI grants aimed at supporting AAPI students.


San Jose State University

Ranked at No. 4, San Jose State is the best AANAPISI university in California for economic mobility. SJSU graduates see median earnings about $5,200 above what other bachelor's graduates earn in California. SJSU has an acceptance rate of 55%, and about 43% of students use the Pell grant to help fund their education. SJSU also serves the highest rate of AAPI students of the colleges on our list — about one in three students are Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. The university is most popular with engineering and business majors, who made up 39% of graduates altogether in 2020.


New York Institute of Technology

The New York Institute of Technology is the first private school on our list and the top AAPI-serving four-year university in New York for economic mobility. With an acceptance rate of 76%, NYIT is fairly accessible. However the school's annual net price of $31,500 means students likely have to borrow more to help pay for college. That means the 41% of students who receive the Pell Grant, and likely many more who come from middle income families, have a larger gap to fill than students at more affordable schools. Alumni see a median payoff of $4,200 more than others with a bachelor's degree in New York, and one-third of the 2020 alumni earned their degree in healthcare professions.


California State Polytechnic University - Pomona

Cal Poly - Pomona graduates also see a high payoff, with median earnings of $3,000 higher than other bachelor's graduates in California. This is likely due in part to the high rate of engineering majors, which made up 29% of the 2020 graduates. Aside from high median earnings, students also have low default rates and high completion rates, two indicators that mean Cal Poly - Pomona grads tend to fare pretty well both during and after college. The university also serves a highly diverse student population. Roughly half of students are Pell recipients and come from lower income families, and just under 22% of students are members of the AAPI community.


Mount Saint Mary's University

With a median payoff of about $2,200 higher than California residents typically earn with a bachelor's degree, Mount Saint Mary's ranks 7th and is one of just three private schools on our list. Mount Saint Mary's students are largely women in healthcare, and 60% of students use the Pell Grant to help pay for college. While the school has a notably high admissions rate of 84%, it also has a significantly higher annual net price compared to other universities at $36,457. However, its default rate of 3.3% indicates that, while students likely need to borrow more to pay for college, they are successful enough in their careers after college to repay those loans on time.


California State University - East Bay

Cal State East Bay graduates see median earnings $600 higher than what other bachelor's graduates earn living in California. In addition to a higher payoff compared to other schools, Cal State East Bay is widely accessible, with an admissions rate of 72% and an annual net price of less than $18,000, making it the most affordable option on our list. It also serves a diverse student population, with 23% of students identifying as AAPI and 47% using the Pell Grant to pay for school. Popular majors include business and healthcare. CSUEB used federal funding from the AANAPISI grant in 2016 to create a program that supports AAPI students transferring from local community colleges.


Benedictine University

With median earnings of $203 above the median for bachelor's holders living in Illinois, Benedictine University ranks ninth for top AANAPISI schools for economic mobility. The private university is highly popular for healthcare and business majors, which make up nearly three-quarters of graduates. Benedictine is fairly accessible, with an admissions rate of 63% and 41% of students receiving the Pell Grant. However, its high net annual price of $30,752 means more students likely need to borrow or find additional funding to help pay for school.


Metropolitan State University

Metropolitan State University is the only Minnesota school on our list, with earnings $200 above what others living in the state earn with their bachelor's degrees. The university is slightly more selective than other schools on our list with a 54% acceptance rate. About 45% of Metropolitan State students use the Pell Grant to pay for college. Most popular majors for Metropolitan State alumni include business and healthcare. Metropolitan State received $1.48 million in federal grant funding in 2020 to address inequities for AAPI students with a focus on improving student outcomes through support initiatives.

Honorable Mentions

While it's no surprise that many California schools appear on this list given the large AAPI community in the state, there are many universities across the country that showcase strong student outcomes and serve a diverse student body, including AAPI students and those from lower income families.

The University of Houston

Texas is home to more than 1.5 million Asian Americans and has a number of strong universities that keep college students in-state each year. The University of Houston is a top institution for economic mobility for AAPI students in Texas, with median alumni earnings nearly $3,000 above the state salary threshold for bachelor's degrees. It serves more than 40,000 undergraduate students each year, and nearly 40% of them are Pell recipients.

University of Nevada - Las Vegas

UNLV graduates earn a median salary of $47,513 per year, just over $3,000 above the median for a bachelor's degree in Nevada. The university serves nearly 30,000 undergraduate students each year, about 37% of whom are Pell recipients. UNLV has received multiple federal grants to better support AAPI students since 2015, especially those that come from lower income families or require academic support.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Alumni of the University of Hawaii at Manoa earn about $1,900 more than the state median of $46,467 per year for bachelor's graduates. The university is a bit more expensive compared to other public schools, with an annual net price of nearly $26,000. However, its acceptance rate of 84% means most students who apply get in, and nearly 3 in 10 students use the Pell Grant to help pay for school. More than 40% of students are members of the AAPI community, and the school serves 15,000 undergraduate students. The university received a federal AANAPISI grant in 2021 to hire staff aimed at increasing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates for high need AAPI students.

The Bottom Line

There are a wealth of universities that serve diverse student bodies and offer accessible options for economic mobility. These largely include public colleges in California, Illinois, New York, and other states with big AAPI communities. Many of these schools are also popular for STEM and healthcare majors, and serve high rates of AAPI and Latinx students in addition to those from lower income families.

These universities play a critical role in their communities by offering strong salary outcomes that are actually accessible for students. This is especially crucial for the diverse AAPI population, which faces a wide range of socioeconomic factors that impact college access and economic mobility.


We looked at four-year universities listed under the AANAPISI designation from the Equitable Value Explorer, a tool provided by the Postsecondary Value Commission using data from the U.S. Department of Education. We only considered universities with an undergraduate enrollment of 500 or more students and an admissions rate of 50% or more, where at least 10% of students are Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders and at least 40% are Pell recipients. Median alumni salaries are for bachelor's degrees 10 years after enrollment. 

Notre Dame De Namur University was removed from this list as the university announced a transfer to graduate-only instruction in September 2021.

*Note: Data were gathered from the Postsecondary Value Commission, which emphasizes that these data are incomplete. The U.S. Department of Education does not currently provide disaggregated earnings data by gender or race, making it difficult to draw out insights for specific student groups.


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