Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

How will first- and second-generation young adults fare in college and beyond?

Photo by CSU Stanislaus Photo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Youths and young adults between 16 and 26 from immigrant families now represent one in four people in the United States in this age group - up from one in five only 15 years ago, according to a new report. As they move through secondary and postsecondary education then on to the workplace, replacing older workers, how will they fare?

The Migration Policy Institute report takes a close look at what it terms "youth of immigrant origin," profiling foreign-born and U.S.-born young people between the ages of 16 and 26. The report notes, among other things, that between 2007 and 2010, a tipping point occurred in which the number of first-generation immigrants was eclipsed by that of the U.S.-born second generation. In 2010, there were 4.8 million first-generation immigrant youths ages 16 to 26 in the U.S., 2.8 million of whom arrived before they were 16.

By contrast, there were 6.5 million second-generation youths in 2010. What this means as these these U.S.-born children of immigrants overtake the foreign-born group: "A rising share of immigrant-origin youth will be fully eligible for college admission, financial aid, and employment," the report reads. It's a lengthy report, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • If second and higher generations are taken into account, the number of bilingual young people 16 to 26 comes to 7.1 million, more than twice the number of youth with limited English proficiency.

  • Among Latinos, the second generation's rate of high school attendance, college enrollment, and degree earning is significantly higher than that of the first generation. Latinas, in particular are enrolling in college at rates equal to those of third-generation white women. However, both female and male Latino students' rate of degree completion still lags behind that of whites; for example, 18 percent fewer Latinas completed an associate's degree or higher by 25 or 26 than their white peers.

  • Non-Latino first-and second-generation immigrant youths fare better in college than Latinos, an outcome that is driven largely by Asian American youths. More than 53 percent of non-Latino youths of immigrant origin had an associate’s degree or higher by age 25 or 26, compared with 45 percent of third-generation whites. But the report notes a wide gap in outcomes among different Asian American groups, with children of Chinese and Indian immigrants from affluent, two-parent families at the top of the educational attainment list.

  • The most vulnerable group among those studied is young Latinos who came to the United States at 16 or older, whose roadblocks to educational and economic attainment include a lack of legal status for many (and no eligibility for relief under the proposed Dream Act), poor English skills, and often an interrupted education in their native countries that is difficult to recover from.

The report points out that how first-generation youths fare in their education and the workplace will vary greatly depending on immigration status, including for those foreign-born who arrived as young children and remain undocumented. While there is proposed legislation to grant those who arrived before age 16 conditional legal status if they go to college or join the military, many continue to graduate from high school and college with no clear path to legal status.

The entire report can be downloaded here.