South Seattle Community College is a designated Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI). • Courtesy Photo
South Seattle Community College is a designated Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI). • Courtesy Photo

South Seattle Community College is home to one of the 21 funded Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) in the United States. The title is a federal designation; a school qualifies as an AANAPISI if it has undergraduate enrollment of at least 10 percent Asian-American or Native American Pacific Islander and at least 50 percent of the student body must be eligible for federal need-based financial assistance.

The first AANAPISI programs were awarded grants in 2008 and South Seattle was among the first six schools to receive the designation and funding during that award cycle.

“[At South Seattle], what we are doing considers the unique needs of the AAPI population,” May Toy Lukens, Project Director for the AANAPISI Program at South Seattle Community College. “Our services are accessible to everyone, but our emphasis is to target needs of AAPI, which is 26 percent of the student body in South Seattle.”

In 2011, South Seattle applied for and received a second AANAPISI grant, which is funded through September 30, 2016. Lukens explained they are using the second grant to build upon what they learned. The grant is funding the development of a student center that tries to take into account what the cultural needs of AAPI students are.

“One of the things we have learned is we need to address the whole student, who they are, what their needs are,” Lukens said.

She explained that a sense of community is important to AAPIs, but a lot of non-AAPI students come to the center as well.

“We provide a safety net [for students that includes] proactive advising, academic support, scholarships, some services that focus on AAPI cultural needs, and [we] address issues of how to help navigate the college system and succeed,” Lukens said.

South Seattle has a high commuter population and the AANAPISI center serves as a one-stop shop for them, with advisors there to answer questions students may have.

“We try to have counselors with students every quarter, but students can also use the space to study, take a workshop, or tutoring sessions,” Lukens said. “It’s a great place to connect with other AAPI students and faculty.”

The AANAPISI program at South Seattle has faculty who work with the staff on bridging the cultural approach in teaching and learning. Cultural specialists also teach AAPI courses. The center is located on the second floor of the library building and is open five days a week.

Though the grant does not allow AANAPISI programs to do outreach and recruitment, Lukens believes the community is aware of the program.

“All my staff is active in the community, through different organizations,” Lukens said.

The complete impact of the AANAPISI program is yet to be seen, according to Lukens.

“When you are able to see changes in student success, we are able to institutionalize those programs,” Lukens said. And when you make MSI (minority serving institution) programs, you make it better for all students.”

Enrollment data shows that between 2007 (right before the AANAPISI program was launched at South Seattle) and 2013 (the most recent year data was available for), AAPI enrollment at South Seattle increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.

South Seattle is also working on becoming a demonstration college, among AANAPISIs, to show other schools how to build programs.

“Other [schools] were enhancing existing programs; with us we were starting many new programs,” Lukens said. “We are a smaller college and don’t already have some of the student groups other schools had.”

A study released in 2013 by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and the National Commission on Asian-American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) found that 153 U.S. colleges and universities are eligible to become federally designated as AANAPISIs. However only 78 of those schools have sought and been granted the distinction since 2008, when the federal program was launched.

Of the 78, just 21 schools have received AANAPISI program funding, which is aimed at improving the retention, transfer, and graduation rates of underserved Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students.

According to Lukens, other programs in Washington have filed for the AANAPISI designation, but don’t have the funding.

When the thresholds are met, schools are eligible for funding with one condition—they can only apply for money when there is a competition, which hasn’t happened since 2011. However, another competition is expected later this year. Unlike Trio programs, AANAPISI programs can’t get re-funded for the same program or project. The funding is intended to develop new programs, which the school is expected to continue once the grant ends.

Lukens said the funding is good, but added “they have to provide more ANAPISI funding for more schools to do more programs.”

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