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Amid Significant U.S. Labor Force Needs, Higher Ed Should Focus More on Its Growing Immigrant-Origin Student Population
Press Release
Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Amid Significant U.S. Labor Force Needs, Higher Ed Should Focus More on Its Growing Immigrant-Origin Student Population

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. labor force is trending towards a demographic cliff—spurred by low birth rates and an aging population. Automation and artificial intelligence continue to significantly transform the workplace. And the United States is facing growing competition from other countries for international talent. All of these trends underscore the need for U.S. policymakers and higher education and workforce development leaders to deliver a skilled and productive workforce that can adapt to emerging technologies and uphold U.S. global competitiveness.

An often-overlooked population—college students from immigrant families—are a part of the solution, Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Senior Policy Analyst Jeanne Batalova and Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration Executive Director Miriam Feldblum note in a commentary out today.

The nation’s 3.7 million U.S.-born students with immigrant parents and 1.9 million first-generation immigrant students (collectively referred to as immigrant-origin students) accounted for 31 percent of students enrolled on U.S. college and university campuses in 2021, up from 20 percent in 2000. Importantly, immigrant-origin students represent 80 percent of the overall increase in U.S. higher education enrollment over the past two decades, MPI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found. Even as enrollment of students from U.S.-born families rose by 6 percent between 2000 and 2021, it surged by 94 percent for immigrant-origin students.

Improving higher education access and services for these students is essential for the future of higher education and the development of a diverse and skilled U.S. labor force, Batalova and Feldblum argue.

Despite enrollment gains, many immigrant-origin students face barriers to pursuing a post-secondary degree. Of the 1.9 million immigrants enrolled in higher education (this number excludes international students coming to the United States for an education), 56 percent are non-citizens and hold a variety of statuses or lack legal status entirely—which can restrict their ability to access support avenues such as federal financial aid.

“Given the growing campus presence and economic potential of immigrant-origin students, it is crucial to pay greater attention to this population,” the authors write. This is particularly important, they note, with the recent Supreme Court decision striking down race-conscious admission policies.

Universities and colleges that take into account a broader understanding of assets and talents, including immigrant experiences, will be better positioned to identify and attract a diverse and talented student population. “Investing in increasing higher education access for all students, including those of immigrant origin, is essential for the future well-being of U.S. communities and the U.S. economy,” the authors write.

Read the commentary here: www.migrationpolicy.org/news/investing-future-immigrant-origin-students.

And to explore all of MPI’s research on adult and post-secondary education, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/nciip-adult-and-postsecondary-education.