Do Asian American faculty face a glass ceiling in higher education?

December 18, 2002

WASHINGTON, December 20,2002 -- A new study published in the Fall 2002 issue of the American Educational Research Journal (AERJ) focuses on the glass ceiling--those artificial barriers to achievement often experienced by White women and racial minorities in the professional world.

In all academic fields of higher education, contrary to expectations, no consistent evidence for a glass ceiling emerged for Asian Americans, according to Professor Sharon M. Lee, Professor of Sociology at Portland State University. She observed a more complex picture when the effects of particular independent variables such as academic rank, tenure, years of experience, productivity, and field or area of specialization were further evaluated.

Asian Americans have fewer paths available than White faculty to increase earnings and that several characteristics translate to higher salaries for Whites but not for Asian Americans, Professor Lee found. "Whites derive substantial and statistically significant benefits from being male, being native born, being a professor or associate professor, having at least a low level of publications, and being located in the West. In contrast, Asian Americans either are negatively affected by the same characteristics or experience very small and statistically non-significant positive effects," Professor Lee wrote.

It is premature to conclude that Asian American faculty in higher education do not experience a glass ceiling, she noted.

Professor Lee conducted this research on the glass ceiling hypothesis with data from the 1993 National Study of Post-Secondary Faculty, sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. The sample included 15,400 full-time instructional faculty who directly influence and interact with students--1,019 Asian Americans and a comparison group of 14,381 non-Hispanic Whites at 817 participating institutions. Faculty base salary was the independent variable.

Professor Lee also noted that her study of Asian American faculty and the glass ceiling directly relates to the ideal of education as a meritocracy by providing data to encourage appropriate policymaking to address issues of increased racial and ethnic diversity and equitable treatment of minority faculty.

This research is timely and necessary, noted Professor Lee, whose work provides new baseline findings on Asian American faculty. During the last two decades, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial minority in the United States, and they have exceptionally high investments in education. For instance, higher percentages of Asian Americans are college graduates, compared to other racial/ethnic groups.

More research on Asian Americans in academe is needed, including studies on how fast Asian Americans are awarded tenure and promotion and on Asian Americans as administrators.
Editors: AERJ is published by the American Educational Research Association, a professional society for scholars who concentrate on research and evaluation in education. To contact Professor Lee, call 503-725-3962 or e-mail To receive a full-text of this article, contact Helaine Patterson or Lucy Cunningham in AERA Communications and Outreach, 202-223-9485 or

American Educational Research Association

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