Study Examines College Experience of Immigrants, Offspring

A new national study may yield some clues about how immigrant and second generation Americans differ from all other undergraduates, and from each other, when they get to college.

The study (PDF) for the U.S. government's National Center for Education Statistics examined students from six states including New York, where 35 percent of college students were either first- or second-generation immigrants.

The foreign-born population in the U.S tripled between 1970 and 2007. A little more than a quarter of all adults aged 25 and older had bachelor's degrees in 2007, regardless of whether or not they were foreign born. But 44 percent of foreign-born? adults had enrolled in college compared to 56 percent of the U.S. born population.

Among undergraduates who were born abroad or whose parents were immigrants, the dominant ethnic groups are Hispanics and Asians.

"They're definitely different on some of the measures that we looked at," said Sandra Stacklis, a senior research associate with M.P.R. Associates, which analyzed data from the 2007-2008 academic year. "The study's just descriptive so this is just a starting point for investigating these issues."

Both Asians and Hispanice are more likely than college students in general to be low-income. They also make good use of community colleges. "But it's not true for Asian second -generation Americans," said Stacklis, explaining that they "are less likely than all undergraduates to enroll in community colleges." That's because they are more likely to enroll in four-year institutions.

Other key findings:

  • Hispanic students were more likely than the Asian students to have parents who didn't go to college. Thirty-eight percent of Asian immigrant and 28 percent of Asian second-generation American undergraduates had parents who did not attend a postsecondary institution, compared with more than half of Hispanic immigrant and second-generation American students. This means there wasn't much change among the Hispanics between generations.

  • The Hispanic students were also less likely to speak English at home than Asians, even if they were born in the U.S. Eighteen percent of Hispanic immigrant undergraduates, and 48 percent of second-generation students reported speaking English at home compared to 26 percent of Asian immigrant and 59 percent of second-generation Asian students.

  • Hispanic students are more likely than Asians to enroll in for-profit colleges, a growing new industry.

  • Forty-six percent of the Asian undergrads reported taking or planning to take calculus in high school - more than double the figure for all U.S. undergraduates. This is considered a barometer of success in college.

  • The study did not include Puerto Ricans because the authors say it was too hard to determine whether they were first or second generation immigrants.