Immigrants gaining in education, study finds
Ventura County Star
September 9, 2005
Mexican-Americans trail others
in obtaining college degrees
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
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
"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.
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
to the editor: