Even as U.S. college enrollment has been on the decline since peaking in 2011, immigrant-origin students have comprised ever-larger shares of students on college and university campuses, in the process ushering in growing diversity, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis finds. This growth in two- and four-year college enrollment over the past two decades by students who are immigrants (the first generation) or the U.S.-born children of immigrants (the second generation) holds key implications for U.S. competitiveness as most future job growth is expected to require more than a high school education.

It also has important implications for U.S. higher education, helping cushion enrollment drops among a predominately White third-and-higher generation that is aging and also newly questioning the value of a college credential, MPI analysts Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix find. Where immigrant-origin students represented 1 in 5 students on college campuses in 2000, they were 1 in 3 as of 2021, and the younger ages of the U.S.-born children of immigrants likely will contribute to the rising prominence of the second generation among U.S. students for years to come.

The issue brief, Shared Gains: Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Colleges, uses U.S. Census Bureau data to examine changing enrollment by race, ethnicity, nativity, generation, and by two- and four-year college attendance; and the role that immigrant-origin-students are likely to play in shaping future enrollment trends. It also uses data from the Organization for Economic Development’s Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to examine the impact of parental education on post-secondary enrollment across immigrant generations.


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