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Challenges and Avenues to Success for Immigrant Students
To best meet the needs of immigrant students, educators should be aware of their specific circumstances and locations within U.S. higher education. Several recent reports provide a window into the lives of immigrant students and the steps educators might take to support their access, success, and learning.
Opening the Door to the American Dream
In this report on educational access for legal immigrants to the United States, the Institute for Higher Education Policy illustrates the complex challenges new Americans face on their pathways to postsecondary success. The report explores the specific needs and circumstances of the immigrant student population, which represented 12 percent of both undergraduate and graduate students as of 2003-04 (24-26).
The report highlights unique challenges faced by particular groups and summarizes differences in access and success by citizenship status, age of entry, and country of origin. For example, nearly two-thirds of immigrants over age twenty-four who have not obtained U.S. citizenship have no formal education beyond high school, while naturalized citizens have higher rates of bachelor's degree attainment than the U.S. population at large (4). Immigrants who entered the United States between the ages of thirteen and nineteen have the least education of all age groups, as do immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean among origin groups (5). These and other immigrant students face a range of barriers related to information, outside responsibilities, financial need, prior academic preparation, and language (6-7).
Underscoring that "higher education for immigrants has major implications for the nation as a whole" (8), with 15 percent of the current workforce born outside the United States (15) and children of immigrants projected to be one third of K-12 students by 2040 (17), the report suggests programs and policy changes that might improve immigrant access and success. To download the report, visit www.ihep.org/assets/files/publications/m-r/OpeningTheDoor.pdf.
The Immigrant University
John Aubrey Douglass, Heinke Roebken, and Gregg Thomson explore the differences in college experiences for first-, second-, third-, and fourth-generation immigrant students in this research paper, "The Immigrant University: Assessing the Dynamics of Race, Major, and Socioeconomic Characteristics at the University of California." This November 2007 paper examines data drawn from the University of California-Berkeley, where 71 percent of students in 2006 reported having at least one grandparent who was an immigrant, 62 percent reported at least one parent who was an immigrant, and 28 percent reported that they themselves were immigrants to the United States (5-6).
The study suggests that students' educational paths vary by racial and ethnic background as well as by immigrant generational status. For example, while first- and second-generation students tend to choose career-oriented majors (such as engineering), students in later generations were relatively more inclined to pursue humanities degrees (11-12). These correlations generally correspond to patterns in the immigration status of different ethnic groups: Chinese students (who often majored in career-oriented degrees) were more likely to be first- or second-generation immigrants than their Euro-American peers, who had higher representation within humanities fields and were more likely to be third- or fourth-generation immigrants (11, 15).
The paper also includes information on socioeconomic and academic capital, hours spent on various activities, and sense of belonging, social satisfaction, and academic satisfaction. While of particular interest to immigrant-rich California institutions, the paper is pertinent to anyone interested in how immigrant identity might affect the educational experience. To download the paper, visit cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/docs
Young Lives on Hold
In this recent report for the College Board, Roberto G. Gonzales explores the educational barriers facing unauthorized immigrants from "the 1.5 generation": undocumented residents who were born outside of the United States, but who immigrated at a young age with their parents. The report describes these immigrants' demographic diversity and examines their interest--and the interest of society at large--in their gaining access to higher education.
As the report details, the majority of undocumented immigrants (9.6 million of the 11.9 million total) are from Latin America, with Asian immigrants representing the second-largest group. Since 2000, Latino population growth has contributed more than 50 percent of the overall U.S. population growth, with 40 percent of this U.S. Latino population growth due to immigration (9). While immigrants hold a range of legal statuses, those who are undocumented face critical barriers to higher education. In 1982, the Supreme Court guaranteed undocumented children access to K-12 public education via Plyler vs. Doe, but this guarantee does not extend to higher education (11). Given the significant share of the U.S. population undocumented immigrants represent, Gonzales argues, their educational advancement is critical to the economic well-being of the nation at large.
The full report details the extent of immigrant participation in the U.S. labor force, summarizes current state-based laws and policies, and shares the personal stories of individual students. To download the paper in full, visit professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/ young-lives-on-hold-college-board.pdf.
Educational Attainment by Immigrant Status,
U.S. Population Age 25 and Older, 2006
Naturalized U.S. citizens show higher rates of educational attainment at both
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. Calculated from Table 1.5: Educational
Educational Attainment by Immigrant Generation,
U.S. Population Age 25 and Older, 2006
Second-generation immigrant students (who have at least one foreign-born parent)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. Calculated from Table 4.5: Educational attainment of the population 25 years and over by sex and generation: 2006. Foreign-born Population of the United States Current Population Survey—March 2006 Detailed Tables.www.census.gov/population/www/