Immigrants Lag Non-Immigrant Peers in College Enrollment

The number of American residents who were born elsewhere has gone up by 300% since the 1970, according to a Stats in Brief report by the U.S. Department of Education. In 2007, more than one-in-eight people currently living in America were born outside the country. New Americans in Postsecondary Education, a paper compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, looks at how immigrants’ college attainment compares with those born in the United States.

Nearly a quarter of all undergraduates are either immigrants or have at least one immigrant parent. Of the six states analyzed for the study, California, where close to half of all college students meet that criteria, had the highest number of immigrants or first generation Americans among its undergraduates. Georgia, where only 14% of undergraduate were immigrants or children of an immigrant parent, had the smallest.

Hispanic and Asian immigrant and second-generation American undergraduates differed from each other and from all undergraduates on several background characteristics, including whether their parents had attended college. Among Hispanics, a majority of both immigrant and second-generation Americans (55 percent and 54 percent, respectively) had parents who had not attended a postsecondary institution, compared with 33 percent of all undergraduates. Among Asian students, 38 percent of immigrant and 28 percent of second generation American undergraduates had parents who had not attended college.

The data showed that although more than three quarters of Asian and Hispanic immigrants had high school completion rates of at least 75%, that was still lower than the completion rates than second-generation Americans and beyond, who graduated high school in 9 out of 10 cases. In selecting their classes in high school, Asian and Hispanic immigrants chose courses like pre-calculus and calculus — courses that correlate with college completion — at a lower rate than their non-immigrant counterparts.

When choosing to pursue a degree program after high school, immigrants were more likely to enroll in community rather than four-year colleges compared to their native-born peers. Although 51% of Hispanic and 54% of Asian immigrants chose community colleges versus 44% of non-immigrants second- and third-generation immigrants enrolled in four-year colleges, rather than two-year associates programs, at the same rate as Americans at least four generations removed from immigration.

Immigrant Asian (40 percent) and Hispanic (36 percent) undergraduates had lower rates of full time enrollment than all undergraduates (47 percent) in 2007–08 (figure 13). A higher proportion of second generation American than immigrant Hispanics (42 percent vs. 36 percent) and Asians (54 percent vs. 40 percent) enrolled in college full time. The full time enrollment rate among Asian second-generation Americans (54 percent) was higher than among all undergraduates (47 percent), but the rate among Hispanic second generation Americans (42 percent) was lower than among Asian second generation Americans and all undergraduates.