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First- and second-generation immigrants making up larger portion of higher education enrollment

October 22, 2020
By: Connor LaVelle

In 2018, 5.8 million students at colleges and universities within the United States were either the children of first-generation immigrants or were immigrants themselves, which accounted for 28 percent of the total student population and was a noticeable increase from the 2.9 million enrolled in 2000. This data serves as the foundation of a new report from the Migration Policy Institute, Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education: A Data Profile, that explores the growing role first- and second-generation immigrants play within the nation’s higher education landscape.

Within their study, Jeanne Batalova and Miriam Feldblum of the Migration Policy Institute explain that “the economic premium of higher education and life-long learning is likely to keep growing. The jobs of the future, shaped by automation, artificial intelligence, and other technological developments, will largely require a medium to high level of skills.” As the significance of higher education within the nation’s economy continues to grow, and the enrollment of first- and second-generation immigrants continues to grow along side it, the authors note that policymakers and higher-ed administrators should be aware of three policy issues that relate to first- and second-generation immigrant students:

  1. States’ postsecondary education goals — Feldblum and Batalova note the important role that immigrant students play in helping grow states’ higher education enrollment, including the number of adult students that have entered into postsecondary education, a target demographic for many states’ higher education goals.
  2. Racial equity — The report explains that immigrant students account for a large percentage of students who are racial or ethnic minorities. In 2018, 24 percent of Black students, 63 percent of Latino students, and 85 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander students were either first- or second-generation immigrants. As policymakers continue to work towards racial equity throughout the country, the growing role of racial and ethnic minority immigrants in the postsecondary education landscape can serve as a touchstone to the importance that supporting diversity plays within the United States.  
  3. Immigration policies — While first- and second-generation immigrant students are primarily U.S.-born or naturalized citizens, the report points out it is important to also consider how policies can affect their families. The current threat of harsher immigration policies can be destabilizing to immigrant families; it can limit a family’s ability to pay for higher education or, in the case of restrictions on legal immigration, limit the number of potential postsecondary students entering the country.

The full Migration Policy Institute Fact Sheet, Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education: A Data Profile, is available here.

immigration, higher ed