Immigrants Outpacing US-Born Citizens in Race for College Degrees

(CN) – The American dream lives in immigrants who, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday, hold more college degrees than native-born citizens.

“Higher education is a way and means of getting out of poverty and actually prospering in this country,” said Victor Galvan, director of membership and engagement at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. “I think for a lot of immigrants, education is the way they pay respect not only to their journey but to their parents’ journey to come to this country.”

Nationwide, rates of higher education are on the rise and the number of graduates with advanced degrees has doubled since 2000. Today, 21 million citizens over the age of 25 hold master’s degrees and 4.5 million can call themselves “doctor.”

Along with 35 percent of U.S. natives, 39 percent of immigrants who have arrived since 2000 now hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. About 31 percent of immigrants who entered the country in the 1990s hold a college degree. 

According to the Census Bureau, 38.4 percent of naturalized citizens and 39.6 percent of children to immigrant parents have college degrees.

Galvan hopes Americans don’t misconstrue the study. Coming days after the president declared a controversial national emergency to secure funding for his border wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep Latin American immigrants out, Galvan said, “I’m sure some people will look at the data and say ‘it’s because they had a leg up,’ but that’s not true.”

He added: “I think the land of the brave was made brave by some of the people who moved here.”

Considered the most diverse city in Colorado, Aurora boasts a nonwhite population of 39 percent – including more than 68,500 foreign-born citizens. For Ricardo Gambetta, director of the city’s international and immigrant affairs office, education is an economic issue.

“Once you become a U.S. citizen, you have access to higher education, you can improve your income, you can become a homeowner and you can become more active in the civic, economic, and political life of the city,” Gambetta said. “So for us, education and citizenship are two of the most important programs.”

The Census Bureau also found the average college graduate makes 3.7 times more money than high school dropouts.

“There are many employment opportunities in science, technology, education and math fields, but Hispanics have low rates of representation,” noted Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

There are more native-born Latinos living in the U.S. than ones born elsewhere, but education is of equal importance for the whole population, Flores said.

“It is important for native born and immigrants to have an education because they are the backbone of the labor force and productive professional and technicians help strengthen the economy,” he said.

Compared to a decade ago, the average college classroom is also more diverse. In 2007, white students made up two-thirds of college enrollment. In 2017, that number dropped more than 10 percent while all other races saw a boost.

Still, many immigrant college students face language barriers, a lack of financing, or find it difficult to navigate the education system if they are first-generation college students.

“Find time to study,” advised Rebecca Fernandez Martinez, senior academic advisor at Community College of Denver. “Students at CCD are coming to college while they have a life – they’re coming to school with family and housing commitments, so I tell them to find time to study and balance it all.”

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