If you are a young person living in California or Texas with immigrant parents who are struggling financially, your odds are better than average that you will receive encouragement and assistance from U.S.-educated adults to attend college and prepare for a career rather than seek immediate employment upon high school graduation. That’s according to a new study from the University of California at Los Angeles that takes a comprehensive look at college-going by first- and second-generation Americans.
The report, “First to the Finish Line: Immigrant Generation in College Admissions,” analyzes data from three very large public school systems— those of California, Texas, and Florida — as well as those from 20 other states. In these 27 states alone about 400,000 immigrant kids graduate from public high schools every year. According to the study’s authors, this amounts to about half – 48 percent –of all such grads nationwide. The results suggest that we need to rethink our assumptions about who is going to college and what role immigrants and children of immigrants play in making it happen.
For instance, the study found that there is no evidence for the persistent myth that first-generation immigrants gain access to college at the expense of native-born kids. Altogether, first- and second-generation immigrant seniors were slightly more likely than their native counterparts (45 vs. 43 percent) to be admitted to any four-year university in 2003. Are some immigrant kids getting preference over others? The data suggest not; they are about as likely as American students with U.S.-born parents (43 percent) to go on to college after high school graduation.
So if it’s not ethnicity or place of birth that makes the difference, what does? Wealthier families help by paying full tuition through private support or loans, or by paying full freight at public schools. Low-income immigrant families are more likely to be eligible for financial aid, which helps many of them pay part of the cost.
According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, only about 30 percent of college-bound students receive ” merit” scholarship offers from universities, but that figure rises to 53 percent for first-generation immigrant students and 59 percent among second-generation kids. The study’s authors suggest one reason is that third- and later-generation Americans feel entitled to admissions preferences while first- and second-generation immigrants don’t question any preference given.
For minorities, there is another factor working in favor of children of immigrants: an underappreciated tendency on the part of admissions officers to view Caucasians of modest means more simply as “the disadvantaged” while minority students are thought of as representing specific ethnic groups. This may help explain why, according to the study’s authors, Hispanic immigrants were nearly twice as likely (by their calculations) to be admitted into four-year colleges in 2003 than third-generation Caucasian kids with family incomes at or below the poverty line.
The report concludes that children of immigrants are more likely to be seen by admissions committees as “stand-ins for disadvantaged communities.” It also points out that high school dropouts are seldom admitted on full scholarships, but first-generation immigrant seniors who have rejected college are sometimes offered waivers worth several thousand dollars. That makes their families eligible for tuition support programs that include a waiver of college costs.
What’s most surprising about the study – and this would be true even without the caveat I just mentioned – is that immigrants who have rejected college represent 11 percent of all children of immigrants, half again as many as those who are currently enrolled in colleges or universities. This suggests that immigration may be making significant contributions to post-secondary education at both ends of the spectrum: by keeping kids out (by rejecting them) and by letting them in (by conferring admission).
Many Americans are unaware that there is a wide range of educational experiences among children of immigrants. Some attend college while others never see the inside of a classroom after their high school graduation ceremonies. A new study explores how this divergence has come about and what it means for students, their families, and society at large. The report, “Immigrants’ Children: America’s Newest Working Class,” was released last week by Jobs for the Future (JFF), an independent Boston-based organization whose mission is to help young people move from poverty to careers in which they can build a future for themselves and their families. The data is based on an original survey of 2,000 young people who were tracked from their earliest days in elementary school.
The report does not include immigrants whose children have been granted legal status and green cards under proposed legislation in Congress (and who therefore would be citizens). If you count only the children of illegal immigrants, the percentage attending colleges drops slightly to 43 percent. This might suggest that if one could deport all parents with undocumented status there would be no need to worry about what would become of their offspring; but such a policy would require deporting some 3 million children, along with any number of siblings and other relatives dependent on them for emotional and economic support. You can see why, as a policy – and even as a public relations – measure, this is not going to happen.
The study found that 56 percent of all respondents have never been employed in a job where they were paid at or above the minimum wage. Only 26 percent said they had ever held down a full-time paying job longer than six months. This has been particularly true of young people from immigrant households where parents lack formal education beyond high school graduation. In these homes, only one out of every ten children makes it into college. The report’s authors say that having an unemployed parent does not significantly affect whether or how far along these kids will go toward earning their degree, but when household income is below $30,000 per year ” and when parents and siblings work alongside the student, ” college aspirations drop by half. It is always discouraging to see how difficult it is for children of poorly educated immigrants – or their parents – to climb out of poverty. Some observers have suggested that as a nation we just have to accept this as a consequence of an immigration policy that has brought us people who do not share our values. Others say that if we had more effective public policies in place these young people would be able to find better jobs and prosper.
For more information, you may ask or consult with Houston immigration lawyers.