Study Examines Immigrant and Second-Generation Undergrads

In an excellent series on immigration, The Next America: How Demography Shapes the National Agenda, National Journal recently presented some fascinating findings about immigrant and second-generation undergraduates [See Disparity Among First- and Second-Generation Immigrants in STEM Degrees, by Rosa Ramirez, National Journal, 15.Jan.2013.] drawn from a study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education. [See New Americans in Postsecondary Education, by Sandra Stalklis and Laura Horn, National Center for Education Statistics, Jul 2012.]

The NCES report analyzed enrollment patterns among immigrants – that is, foreign-born students who are U.S. citizens and have at least one foreign-born parent – and second-generation students, children of immigrants who were born here. According to the study, America’s foreign-born population roughly tripled from 1970 to 2007, to northwards of 37 million, or one-in-eight residents, but on the whole, immigrant educational achievement has not caught up with the U.S. population. However, as the National Journal points out, the aggregate statistics mask significant disparities among immigrant groups, and NCES notes that undergraduate enrollment rates depend on country of origin, age at immigration, and other factors.

A few key findings:

  • Asian and Hispanic students comprised the majority of immigrant and second-generation American undergrads; Asian students accounted for 30 percent of immigrant undergraduates.
  • In 2007-2008, the year covered by the study, 10 percent of all undergraduates were immigrants, and 13 percent were second-generation, with significant regional deviations from the national figures; for example, in California, 45 percent of undergrads were either immigrants or second-generation Americans.
  • A larger percentage of Asian immigrants (45.9 percent) and Asian second-generation Americans (46 percent) either took or planned to take calculus in high school, compared with only 29 percent among all U.S. undergraduates, 25.2 percent among Hispanic immigrants, and 21.5 percent among Hispanic second-generation Americans.
  • Asian and Hispanic immigrant and second-generation students tended to study for health-related occupations at the same rates, while Asian students comprised a greater share (25 vs. 14 percent) in STEM fields, and business (25 vs. 18 percent).

Although the study is largely descriptive, and provides little background into the factors that shape these statistics, it is nonetheless a timely reminder as the immigration debate gears up in Washington: we tend to think of the “immigrant community” as some kind of homogeneous, monolithic entity, but it’s really much more diverse than that. It should come as no surprise that different immigrant communities have different levels and areas of achievement and different needs. The take-home for our policymakers is this: our immigration and immigrant-integration policies need to reflect the rich diversity of talents, needs and experiences that each new American brings to the table.

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