Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE) was founded in 1987, during the height of a five-year fight against a series of discriminatory admission policy directed against Asian Pacific American applicants at the University of California, Berkeley, and several research universities across the nation. At a conference on the admission fight convened in Oakland, California, participants uniformly felt the need for an organization that would address issues affecting Asian Pacific American students, staff, faculty, and administrators. Up until then, there was no national or regional organization devoted to this purpose.

Out of that conference emerged APAHE. Since most of the participants at the founding conference came from universities and colleges throughout California, the consensus was to initially create a California-based organization devoted exclusively to addressing Asian Pacific American concerns and issues in higher education. In recognition of the shared interests and concerns Asian Pacific Americans had across the nation and the need to project our issues more forcefully onto the national forums of higher education, APAHE became a national organization on June 23, 2000.