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Hispanic Immigrants Trail Other Groups, Study Says

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The good news about immigrant students: As a whole, they are more likely than their native-born American peers to follow an academic track in high school, enroll in college, and remain in college for four straight years.

The bad news: Hispanic immigrants, especially from Mexico, arrive in the United States with fewer educational and economic advantages than their U.S.-born counterparts or other immigrant groups. And, according to a recently released RAND Corp. study on immigrants and education, they are unlikely to find upward mobility--educational or otherwise--once they settle in the United States.

The study by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank looks at data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and a national survey of 21,000 high school sophomores and seniors who began their education before 1980 and who had entered an American school by the 10th grade. "How Immigrants Fare in U.S. Education" tracks the participation and performance of immigrant and native students as a whole and within four major racial and ethnic groups: Asian, black, white, and Hispanic.

Immigrant children, the study says, are as likely as natives to enroll in elementary and middle schools but somewhat less likely to attend high school. Much of the explanation for that difference lies with Hispanic immigrants, particularly those from Mexico.

The lower high school attendance is not a result of dropping out, but rather of teenagers not dropping in, according to the study's authors. In 1990, one of every four immigrants from Mexico ages 15 to 17 was not in school--a proportion nearly 20 percent lower than that of any other immigrant group.

By age 15, many Mexican children have been out of school for two years. When they come to the United States, they may not enroll in school because it is too difficult to catch up with others their age or because their family needs them to work.

Great Expectations

"There needs to be some outreach for these children and their families to translate the culture and different educational system here," Maria Robledo Montecel, the executive director of the Intercultural Development Research Association, said in an interview. The San Antonio-based nonprofit organization conducts education research and training.

Once in high school, according to the RAND study, immigrants and their native-born peers vary significantly in what kind of courses they take. Nearly one in two immigrant students was following an academic track as opposed to two in five native students. And immigrants were 34 percent more likely than the native-born to have taken three years or more of math.

However, Hispanics, regardless of whether they were immigrants or native-born, were the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to be following an academic track in preparation for college.

By 2030, nearly one in four school-age children in the United States will be of Hispanic origin, according to projections from the Census Bureau. (See "Surge in Hispanic Student Enrollment Predicted," March 27, 1996.)

The RAND study's authors found the biggest discrepancies in educational attainment between racial and ethnic groups regardless of a person's immigrant status--a finding Ms. Montecel said is consistent with her own group's research.

Immigrants in the study were more likely than their native-born peers to attend college--primarily, the authors say, because they and their families generally held higher educational expectations.

Whether those colleges are ready for them, however, is another question.

In a separate study on immigrants and higher education, RAND researchers found that increased immigration has strained some colleges' operations--from reviewing foreign students' transcripts to clarifying students' residence for tuition purposes. And the degree to which the 14 colleges and universities in the study felt responsible for offering remediation to immigrant students struggling with English varied widely, the authors found.

In a third study on economic progress of immigrants, released by RAND at roughly the same time as the other two immigrant studies, researchers found that immigrants' economic success varied significantly depending on their country of origin. Lower levels of education help explain why Mexican immigrants tend to earn much less than native workers, the study says.

For More Information:

Copies of "How Immigrants Fare in U.S. Education," "Immigration and Higher Education," and "The Mixed Economic Progress of Immigrants" are available for $15 each from RAND. Requests can be made by telephone: (310) 451-7002, fax: (310) 451-6915, or e-mail:

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