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Up for Grabs: Second-Generation Hispanic Women Enroll in College at Same Rate as Third-Generation White Women But Lag in Completion
Press Release
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Up for Grabs: Second-Generation Hispanic Women Enroll in College at Same Rate as Third-Generation White Women But Lag in Completion

Study Details Generational Progress, Challenges for Immigrant-Origin Young Adults; Offers National and State-Level Data

WASHINGTON — Young adult Hispanics who are immigrants or the U.S.-born children of immigrants are making consistent generational gains in education and employment, with college enrollment rates particularly strong for second-generation Hispanic women, according to a major new study of immigrant-origin young adults released today by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

However, while Hispanic second-generation women are enrolling in college at the same rate as third-generation non-Hispanic white women, with 46 percent enrollment, they trail their white counterparts by 18 percentage points when it comes to completing an associate’s degree or higher by the age of 26 (33 percent compared to 51 percent).

“Second-generation Hispanics are closing the gap in terms of access to higher education, but there remain large disparities in completing college, largely because of family, work and economic reasons,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, a co-author of the study. “This is particularly significant because our research shows that wages rise with every level of education. Second-generation Hispanic women with at least a bachelor’s degree earn on average $10 more per hour than those with a high school degree.”

Despite the gains for Hispanic immigrant-origin young adults (first-generation immigrants and the second-generation U.S.-born children of immigrants), their non-Hispanic counterparts have better education and labor market outcomes by and large – driven in part by the strong performance of first- and second-generation Asian youth. More than 53 percent of non-Hispanic immigrant-origin young adults had at least an associate’s degree by age 26, compared to 45 percent of third-generation whites.

These findings are contained in the study Up for Grabs: The Gains and Prospects of First- and Second-Generation Young Adults, which profiles the 11.3 million young immigrant-origin adults who represent one in four people in the United States between the ages of 16 and 26. The research was funded through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

With immigrant-origin youth accounting for half the growth of the young adult population in the United States between 1995 and 2010, t heir trajectory in the classroom and on the job take on new prominence as they assume a greater role in a U.S. workforce that continues to age.

“These 11.3 million immigrant-origin young adults are a remarkably diverse group,” said study co-author Jeanne Batalova, an MPI policy analyst. “They differ widely in English-language proficiency, age of arrival, citizenship status, gender, race and ethnicity – all factors that have a profound effect on their educational and workforce outcomes.”

Among the top findings of the study, which analyzes census data from the 1990s onward and provides national and state-by-state statistics:

  • A generational shift occurred after 2007, driven in part by recession-induced drops in immigration, with the second generation now outnumbering the first. In 2010, there were 6.5 million young adults who are the U.S.-born children of immigrants, compared to 4.8 million immigrants between the ages of 16 and 26. Thus a rising share of immigrant-origin youth is fully eligible for college admission, financial aid and employment.
  • Between 1999 and 2009, there was an across-the-board increase in the educational attainment of first- and second-generation young adults.
  • The immigrant-origin young adult population is remarkably diverse. Within it, the 2 million immigrants who entered after age 16 face the toughest challenges: 70 percent are unauthorized and two-thirds speak little English. For these late entrants, more comprehensive immigration reform measures will be required for their own integration and, in many instances, their families’.
  • The recession’s impacts hit the 16-to-26 population differently. Unemployment was highest among native blacks but it also soared among more traditionally protected populations: native whites and immigrant-origin non-H ispanics. Late-entering Hispanics who came to the United States after the age of 16 felt the recession’s impact earlier than other groups. While their rate of unemployment in March 2006 was 5 percent — the lowest among all young adults — it more than doubled to 13 percent by 2008 to exceed that of other first-generation groups (7 percent). However, it fell slightly to 12 percent by 2010 in contrast with the rising unemployment of other young adults in part because of a sharp drop in the number of late-entering Hispanics, more part-time work and their willingness to relocate or change job sectors.

With immigrant-origin young adults more likely to be nontraditional learners from low-income families, the report recommends greater use of successful strategies such as dual enrollment in high school/college to compress learning time and save fees; flexible scheduling and financial assistance; giving credit for foreign-earned courses and making credits fully transferrable from two-year to four-year college institutions; programs that reduce students’ time in remedial courses; and extending time to graduation.

“Our findings reinforce the need for accessible pathways that allow students to build their credentials as they make the transition among adult basic education, non-credit occupation training and for-credit postsecondary certificate and degree programs,” Fix said. “The futures of these young adults will remain up for grabs until educators, employers and policymakers develop a greater understanding of this population’s unique characteristics and shape postsecondary education and workforce development and language training programs to better suit their needs.”

The report can be found here


The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.

MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, which undertook this research, conducts policy-focused research, policy design, leadership development, technical assistance and training for government officials and community leaders, and an electronic resource center on immigrant integration issues with a special focus on state and local policies and data.