Original URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A10590-2002Dec4.html

Immigrant Education Levels Rise
The Washington Post, December 4, 2002
By Mary Beth Sheridan

Education levels among Latino immigrants have sharply improved in recent decades, according to a report released yesterday that suggests such Hispanics will begin to close the yawning gap they have with native-born Americans.

The study of census data, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, found that the percentage of adult Latino immigrants who had completed only high school in 2000 had more than doubled since 1970, to 41 percent. An additional 18 percent had gone on to college, nearly twice the figure of three decades earlier.

In contrast, about 53 percent of native-born Americans had just a high-school degree in 2000, and an additional 35 percent had studied further, it said.

"Latino immigrants have done much better than is typically portrayed, and it's likely they will continue to close the education gaps in the future," said the report's principal author, B. Lindsay Lowell.

The education level of Latin American immigrants has become a major issue in recent years, since their numbers have grown dramatically, to represent around half the current foreign-born population of the United States.

Opponents of the large-scale immigration that began in the 1970s argue that poorly educated newcomers add to poverty rolls.

One such opponent, Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the improvement by Latino immigrants wasn't enough.

"The fundamental question still remains: Why bring in hundreds of thousands of high-school dropouts each year when we don't have to? We're, in effect, importing poverty," he said.

The report predicted that the gap in education between the two groups would narrow, in part for a technical reason: U.S. natives have reached a plateau, with nearly 90 percent graduating from high school and a large number filling universities, it said.

At the same time, the report said, several factors have been driving up education levels among foreign-born Latinos. First, more families are immigrating from Latin America than in the past, when the flow consisted mainly of young men. That means children are arriving young enough to attend U.S. schools. They typically go on to complete more study than
those educated in Latin America, the report said.

Second, education levels have been rising in sending countries, especially among women. Third, older immigrants, many with very low education levels, are dying. The percentage of Latino immigrants who had completed only primary school or less plunged from 72 percent to 41 percent in the past three decades, the report said.

"When you look at the U.S. population in 1970 and the Latino immigrant population today, the levels of educational attainment are actually fairly close," said the report's co-author, Roberto Suro, a former Washington Post reporter.

He and Lowell predicted, however, that a narrowing of the educational gap was a medium- to long-term process.

The report said that the least-educated Latino immigrants were those unauthorized to work or live in the United States; about two-thirds of them had not finished high school. About half the net increase of the Mexican- and Central American-born population in the 1990s came from such illegal immigration, it said.

Ruben G. Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine who has been carrying on a massive nationwide study of first- and second-generation immigrant children, said the report's conclusions didn't surprise him. He added that his research showed that even the children of little-educated immigrants often excelled in school, due in part to their parents' high expectations. Difficulties can arise among later generations, however, as the immigrant work ethic declines and youths may feel their ambitions blocked by discrimination and poverty, he said.


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