Immigrants gaining in education, study finds
Ventura County Star
September 9, 2005

Mexican-Americans trail others in obtaining college degrees

By Stephanie Hoops

The children and grandchildren of immigrants in California, including Mexican-Americans, are better educated than their parents, according to a study released Thursday.

But the report also carries a warning for the state and its economy, finding that the offspring of California's large and growing population of Mexican-American immigrants trail behind other groups of immigrants in their educational advancement.

College degrees are held by only 12 percent of Mexican-Americans whose families have been in California for three or more generations, compared to nearly half (46 percent) of comparable East and South Asians and more than one-third (38 percent) of comparable whites, according to the study issued by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California.

"The findings overall are good news for the state -- with a dose of caution," said PPIC Program Director Deborah Reed.

The authors say that California's future workforce and the social integration of Mexican-American immigrants are at risk.

Among young Californians between the ages of 13 and 24, the largest group are Latinos -- overwhelmingly those of Mexican ancestry.

"I think this is a warning to the state," said Hans Johnson, a demographer and one of the study's authors. "Unless college participation and graduation rates increase substantially for Latinos in California, we will not have the number of college graduates that our economy needs and those Californians won't have the economic opportunities that go along with higher levels of education."

A functioning economy also needs people who don't have college degrees, Johnson said, but projections show that by 2020 the state's employers will require about 40 percent of their workers to have college degrees, yet only 33 percent of the population will have them.

The research took into account the fact that educated people migrate to California from other states and countries, Johnson said.

The study's results did not surprise Teresa Williams, the director of elementary curriculum for the Moorpark Unified School District. Williams was a principal for 13 years, heading up both Walnut Canyon and Flory elementary schools, and she saw progress being made by the newer generations of Mexican-American youngsters, even if it didn't keep with other groups.

"I think a lot of it has to do with resources and their income level," she said. "Children that are at a higher socioeconomic level have more support at home through a stay-at-home parent."

Williams would like to see more attention paid to helping the parents of Mexican-American youths become more involved with their children's education.

The researchers suggest as remedies that policymakers move to develop mentoring programs, continue investing in community colleges and find ways to improve the language, literacy and vocational skills of working immigrants.

The remedy to the problem, however, said Chuck Weis, Ventura County superintendent of schools, lies not just with the schools. Indeed, the study found that of the Mexican youths who come to the U.S. as teenagers, fewer than half enroll in high school, so Weis said, it would be difficult for the schools to fix the problem on their own.

"It's really about families and decisions they make and the values and culture they bring to the United States and California as well as the need for school systems to change and be more successful with Mexican-American youth," he said.

Some educators said their experiences led them to feel more optimistic than the authors of the new report.

"I get a sense that kids are doing better academically than maybe they're portrayed," said Jody Dunlap, superintendent of the Oxnard Union High School District.

Others point out that new problems could arise as fresh immigrant populations move into California that are indigenous to Mexico and don't speak Spanish.

"That's been a trend we're seeing more and more in schools," said Denis O'Leary, a bilingual teacher in the Rio School District in unincorporated Oxnard. O'Leary also is on the board of the Oxnard School District.

Reed speculates that those indigenous populations will add a new burden, but said the PPIC's research looked only at adults.

"The numbers aren't so high that it's a majority of students but they're high enough that we need to decide how we're going to deal with this as well," O'Leary said.

The study, "Educational Progress Across Immigrant Generations in California," was authored by Reed, Johnson, Laura E. Hill and Christopher Jepsen. It was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and used data collected from the 2000 U.S. Census and the Census Bureau's 2004 Current Population Survey. It is available at


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