Chattanooga Times Free Press

Chil­dren from im­mi­grant fam­i­lies in the U. S. are in­creas­ingly the face of higher ed­u­ca­tion


An ex­tra­or­di­nary de­mo­graphic shift is sweep­ing through U.S. univer­sity cam­puses as im­mi­grants and chil­dren of im­mi­grants be­come an ever- larger share of stu­dent bod­ies, with im­pli­ca­tions for the fu­ture of the coun­try’s work­force, higher ed­u­ca­tion and ef­forts to re­duce racial and eco­nomic in­equal­ity.

A new study re­leased Thurs­day found that more than 5.3 mil­lion stu­dents, or nearly 30% of all stu­dents en­rolled in col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in 2018, hailed from im­mi­grant fam­i­lies, up from 20% in 2000. The pop­u­la­tion of so- called im­mi­granto­ri­gin stu­dents grew much more than that of U. S.- born stu­dents of par­ents also born in the United States, ac­count­ing for 58% of the in­crease in the to­tal num­ber of stu­dents in higher ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing that pe­riod.

“In higher ed­u­ca­tion, we are pro­duc­ing and train­ing the fu­ture work­force. That fu­ture work­force has more stu­dents from im­mi­grant fam­i­lies than pre­vi­ously un­der­stood,” said Miriam Feld­blum, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pres­i­dents’ Al­liance on Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Im­mi­gra­tion, a group of col­lege and univer­sity of­fi­cials that com­mis­sioned the study from the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a non­par­ti­san think tank.

In Cal­i­for­nia, im­mi­grants or chil­dren of im­mi­grants ac­counted for about half of en­rolled stu­dents in 2018. In eight states — Florida, Hawaii, Mas­sachusetts, Ne­vada, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Wash­ing­ton — they rep­re­sented 30% to 40% of the stu­dent body.

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of im­mi­grant-ori­gin stu­dents are U. S. cit­i­zens or le­gal res­i­dents. But they are likely to face bar­ri­ers and lim­its on re­sources that many other stu­dents do not.

“Go­ing into the col­lege process, these stu­dents them­selves or their fam­i­lies may not have a lot of knowl­edge about nav­i­gat­ing col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions and the fi­nan­cial aid process,” said Jeanne Bat­alova, a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst at Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute and the lead au­thor of the re­port.

As their num­bers swell, the stu­dents from im­mi­grant fam­i­lies will only be­come more im­por­tant to the long-term fi­nan­cial health of U.S. col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. Even be­fore the coro­n­avirus pan­demic threw the op­er­a­tion of col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties into dis­ar­ray, there was con­cern about fu­ture en­roll­ment amid the coun­try’s fall­ing fer­til­ity rate and de­clin­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dent en­roll­ment.

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