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MPI Issues First-Ever U.S. and State Analysis of Immigrant-Origin Students Enrolled in Colleges and Universities
Press Release
Thursday, October 15, 2020

MPI Issues First-Ever U.S. and State Analysis of Immigrant-Origin Students Enrolled in Colleges and Universities

First & Second Generation Make Up Biggest Share of Enrollment Growth Since 2000

WASHINGTON — The face of U.S. higher education is changing. College and university students are more likely to come from immigrant families than in the past, and they are more likely to be racial and ethnic minorities. Immigrants and the children of immigrants have driven 58 percent of the growth in post-secondary enrollment between 2000 and 2018, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) finds in a first-of-its-kind U.S. and state analysis of immigrant-origin students.

These students represented 28 percent (5.3 million) of the 19 million college students enrolled in 2018, up from 20 percent in 2000. Their shares are significantly higher in some states: 50 percent of all students pursuing diplomas in California; 40 percent in Florida, Hawaii and Nevada; 39 percent in New York; and 36 percent in New Jersey.

Drawing from MPI analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) and other sources, a new fact sheet offers a profile of college students who are immigrant (first generation) and the U.S.-born children of immigrants (second generation). The fact sheet excludes international students, who come from abroad specifically for the purpose of study, to permit a focus on established U.S. residents who are in the country for more than an education.

“With immigrant-origin workers projected to drive U.S. labor force growth through at least 2035, examining student characteristics can help colleges and universities as well as state education policymakers as they seek to equip their residents with the skills and knowledge to meet the changing demands of the U.S. and local economies,” said MPI Senior Policy Analyst Jeanne Batalova, the lead author.

Among the top findings:

  • Of the 5.3 million students with immigrant origins in 2018, 68 percent were U.S. born. This marks a significant shift from 2000, when the first- and second-generation college enrolled populations were largely similar in size.
  • Of the 32 percent of enrolled immigrant-origin students who were born abroad, half are naturalized citizens. Together, naturalized citizens and the second generation make up 84 percent of immigrant-origin students, with green-card holders, humanitarian migrants and unauthorized immigrants accounting for the remainder.
  • Immigrant-origin student enrollment jumped from 2.9 million in 2000 to 5.3 million in 2018—an 82 percent increase. By contrast, enrollment of those not directly from an immigrant background rose just 15 percent.
  • 85 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students were members of the first or second generation, as were 63 percent of Latino students and 24 percent of Black students. In comparison, 10 percent of non-Latino White students were from immigrant families.

The fact sheet highlights implications of these trends on efforts by states to encourage college attendance and completion and touches on the effects of U.S. immigration policies on immigrant-origin students pursuing higher education.

Read the fact sheet, Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education: A Data Profile, here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/immigrant-origin-students-us-higher-education.

For a spreadsheet with U.S. and state-level data on enrollment and other characteristics for first- and second-generation students, check out: www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/MPI_Student-ProfilebyGeneration-Detailed-Tables-FINAL.xlsx.