SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – College students of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) heritage are severely underrepresented in higher education, with a smaller percentage going to college compared to other ethnic groups. The goal of attending an Ivy League college may seem out of reach for many NHPI students in Utah, who are thinking about their future. But a local NHPI couple, who have children that have achieved this feat, are now coaching other teens to beat the odds too.

According to a 2019 report by APIA Scholars, 47 percent of the Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander population in the United States has attended college. Out of the sub-groups, 42.1 percent of Samoans, 43.2 percent of Tongans, 47 percent of Native Hawaiians, and 50.7 percent of Guamanians or Chamorros have enrolled in some form of post-secondary education.

At elite schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Yale, Pacific Islanders make up even a smaller fraction of the student population. At Harvard University, for example, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students only made up 0.119 percent of the student population in 2017, according to Data USA. Getting into a top-ranked university is a difficult process, as the competition is so rigorous. So what can NHPI students do to increase their chances of getting accepted?

Malia Isaacs, a Senior at Jordan High School joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion about her story on becoming “Harvard material” and her journey to getting accepted to the Ivy League school.

Alema and Geraldine Fitisemanu, co-founders of the Manuia Group discussed the barriers and gaps that exist for NHPI students, how they help these teens craft their applications to stand out in a pool of competitive Ivy League applications, and when parents should start thinking about preparing their children for college.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Isaacs and the Fitisemanus, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.