Immigrants Making Gains in Higher Education But Still Lag Behind Overall Population

While undergraduate attainment rates for immigrant and second-generation populations have increased steadily, these groups still lag behind the overall U.S. population when it comes to higher education, a new study has found.

Between 1999 and 2000, about 19 percent of undergraduates were immigrants or second-generation Americans — those born in the U.S. to at least one parent born outside the country. Seven years later, the percentage for that population increased to 23 percent of all undergraduate students, according to the Education Department study.

Nonetheless, these populations continue to be behind in educational attainment from the overall population.

Asians and Hispanics made up bulk of the undergraduate immigrants in U.S. schools. More than half of Hispanics, both immigrants and second-generation, were more likely to say one or both parents did not attend college, compared with 33 percent of the overall population. The education of the parent tends to be a strong indicator of whether the child will obtain a postsecondary degree, according to the study.

Asian students, on the other hand, were more likely to mirror the overall population on the educational attainment of parents. Among first-generation Asians, about 38 percent said their parents did not attend college, while 28 percent of second-generation Asians indicated they were first-generation college students.

Report highlights include:

  • Hispanics and Asian immigrant and second-generation students attended community college at higher rates (54 percent and 51 percent, respectively) than the overall population (44 percent).  

  • Proportionally, more Hispanics and Asians were in the lowest income group than the overall undergraduate population.

  • More Hispanics than Asians reported taking remedial courses since enrolling in postsecondary education.