Immigrants Rise With Education



“The American Dream is not about what one attains, but rather the journey to attain it.”  

–Jennifer Lee

“Who is more successful: a Mexican-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with less than an elementary school education, and who now works as a dental hygienist?  Or a Chinese-American whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and earned Ph.D. degrees and who now works as a doctor?”

That’s the question asked by University of California Irvine researcher Jennifer Lee and UCLA sociologist Min Zhou after looking at second-generation Mexican-, Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans whose parents immigrated to America. They say Mexican-Americans are the best-performing second generation because they started way behind other groups and do twice as well as their parents did on economic and education measures.  “As a group, Mexican-Americans may not wind up as rich or educated as some Chinese-Americans do, but they have actually come much further, having started far behind,” they conclude.

“The children of Mexican immigrants had the lowest levels of educational attainment of any of the groups in our study.  Only 86 percent graduated from high school–compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans and 96 percent of native-born Anglos–and only 17 percent graduated from college.  But their high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, only 40 percent of who earned diplomas,” Lee writes.

“The college graduation rate of Mexican immigrants’ children more than doubles that of their fathers (7 percent) and triples that of their mothers (5 percent).  Lee’s and Zhou’s research also looked at other dimensions of societal development, such as median family income and residential assimilation, which “indicate a  largely positive, if tenuous, intergenerational progression into the economic and social mainstream.”

The UC study argues that it’s not any specific cultural trait that makes immigrants more successful than others.  Lee and Zhou say the different routes to social mobility that we all take determine our life experiences and outcomes. But the more education the better the outcome. Horizonte, Salt Lake City School District’s alternative high school and adult education provider, specializes in the immigrant, refugee, high school returnee.