High School Graduates from Immigrant Families Just As Likely To Succeed In College As AmericanBorn Peers
High school graduates from immigrant families are as likely to
go on to college and to perform as well academically as their peers
from American-born families, according to a study funded in part
by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
(NICHD), one of the National Institutes of Health.
The study also found that students from immigrant families are
more likely to support their families financially than are their
American-born counterparts and some are more likely to live with
Youth from Latin American immigrant families have lower rates of
college enrollment and are less likely to earn four-year college
degrees than their counterparts from East Asian (predominantly Chinese)
and Filipino immigrant families.
The study appears in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.
"Children from immigrant families will be a vital part of
our nation's workforce when they grow up," said Duane Alexander,
M.D., Director of the NICHD. "This study shows that youth from
immigrant families can succeed in our educational system and gain
the skills they need for adult life."
More than one in five children in the United States today are in
an immigrant family either immigrants themselves or children of
immigrants, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census's March 2002
Current Population Survey. "If current trends continue, the
share of American children in immigrant families will continue to
rise," said Rebecca Clark, Ph.D., of NICHD's Demographic and
Behavioral Sciences Branch. In addition, a large share of ethnic
minority children resides in immigrant families, including 86 percent
of Asian/Pacific Islander children and 65 percent of Hispanic children.
In the current study, the researchers found that high school graduates
from East Asian backgrounds generally fared better than those from
Filipino, Latin American, and European backgrounds. Students from
East Asian backgrounds had higher enrollment rates, higher grade
point averages, and greater attendance at four-year colleges than
other ethnic groups. Students from an East Asian background generally
came from families that had attained high educational levels in
their home countries. Similarly, the study authors found that students
from East Asian backgrounds also had high aspirations for educational
attainment, and their strong academic performance during high school
carried into postsecondary education.
Earlier studies of immigrant education and attainment focused on
adult immigrants who received their education in their native countries.
This study is one of the first to examine the success of immigrant
children and how they balanced the demands of school, home, and
Andrew J. Fuligni, Ph.D., and Melissa Witkow, M.S., of the University
of California, Los Angeles, collected school records and questionnaires
from 1,004 twelfth-grade adolescents from two public high schools
in the San Francisco Bay area. The schools had a substantial percentage
of families from Chinese, Filipino, Latin American, and European
American backgrounds. About two-thirds of the families were immigrant
families in which at least one of the parents was born outside the
United States. The families were economically diverse: some parents
received only a high school education or less, while others received
advanced graduate and professional degrees.
When the students were in twelfth-grade, the researchers measured
factors such as their academic performance, their own educational
goals, the educational goals that they believed their parents held
for them, whether they valued academic success, and the sense of
obligation they felt to their families. Three years later, two-thirds
of the adolescents were interviewed by phone. By then, virtually
all were either high school graduates or had received their general
equivalency diploma, and very few were married or had children.
The researchers measured their postsecondary educational progress,
including enrollment in two- or four-year college, grade point average,
and progress they made toward the degree. They also measured a category
they referred to as persistence toward degree the likelihood that
a student would continue their education until their degree requirements
were completed. Other measures included student employment, whether
the student lived with his or her parents, and financial contributions
to the family.
The researchers found that youth from immigrant families pursued
and performed in college at levels equal to those of their American-born
peers. Among the immigrant families, however, there were differences
in post-secondary educational progress. In all, 96 percent of the
children of East Asian immigrant families who graduated from high
school enrolled in post-secondary school, compared with 63 percent
of children from Latin American immigrant families.
The current study is one of three funded by the NICHD to look at
factors influencing educational success among children from immigrant
families. Another study looks at factors influencing educational
success of elementary school children and is currently under way.
The third study, published in the November 2003 issue of Demography,
followed high school students from immigrant families and found
that family characteristics such as parents' income and education,
race/ethnicity, and language had a greater effect on achievement
levels and gains than the length of time a student lived in the
In addition, the NICHD is helping to fund the New Immigrant Survey
(NIS), a long-term study of immigrants and their children. NIS will
track changes over time in health, economic status, schooling, use
of governmental services, English language skills, religion, and
children's academic achievements. Other agencies contributing to
this research effort are the National Institute on Aging, also at
the NIH, and NIH's parent agency, the Department of Health and Human
Services. The Department of Homeland Security and the National Science
Foundation are also providing funding for the project. Information
about the NIS can be found at http://www.pop.upenn.edu/nis/index.htm.
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is an
agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The
NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth;
maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population
issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD publications, as well
as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD
Web site, http://www.nichd.nih.gov,
or from the NICHD Information Resource Center, 1-800-370-2943; e-mail