Migrants lack diplomas
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 28, 2005
Experts view latest Latino stats as good, bad


by Jon Kamman


Fewer than half of the Hispanic adults who immigrated to the United States in the past four years had a high school education, a Census Bureau report released today showed.

Viewed unemotionally, the low educational attainment of the nation's largest immigrant group is both bad and good, experts say.

"In the long run, an uneducated society is never beneficial," said Louis Olivas, an Arizona State University vice president.

But in the short run, if immigrants had higher levels of education and skills, they would no longer accept the menial jobs and low pay that mainstream America expects of them, Olivas and a national researcher each observed.

"You have to decide how you feel about that trade-off," said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies. The Washington, D.C.-based think tank describes itself as having a "pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision."

"The benefit is that they are less educated, and the cost of it is that they are less educated," Camarota said.

The 52 percent non-graduation rate measured since 2000 was little changed from the 54 percent average recorded over more than three decades.

Whatever the cost-benefit equation, the low educational attainment of foreign-born Latinos is the largest factor holding Arizona and other immigration-intensive states below the national average in the percentage of residents 25 and older who have completed high school, analysis shows.

The study estimates that 84.4 percent of Arizona's residents in that age group have high school diplomas or GED certificates. That ranks the state 38th nationally, below the U.S. average of 85.2 percent.

Arizona still stands ahead of the nation's two most populous states, which have even higher numbers of Hispanic immigrants. California ranks 45th, with 81.3 percent having completed high school, while Texas, with 78.3 percent, is 51st in a count that includes the District of Columbia. The nation's highest score was Minnesota's 92.3 percent.


Financial benefits


The census study, released today, is an annual update of figures on the nation's educational attainment and how those levels affect income.

It is not meant to measure high school or college dropout rates, but instead provides an overview of the levels of schooling achieved by people who, at 25 or older, are likely to have completed their formal education. Estimates are based on surveys conducted last year.

Full-time workers who completed high school had a median income more than $9,000 a year higher than the $22,000 earned by non-graduates, according to the survey.

That point is not lost on 18-year-old west Phoenix resident Jesus Mungia, a native of Nogales, Sonora, who dropped out of high school just six weeks ago.

While doing odd jobs and day labor to help his mother, a housecleaner, support the family of five, he is planning to go back and at least work on an equivalency certificate, although he is skeptical about its benefits.

An older brother who completed high school "tells me all the time it's going to help me later on," Mungia said. "But then again, they (employers) aren't going to pay me $10 an hour just because I went to school."

An associate's degree from a community college is worth an additional $8,000 a year, according to the survey, and completing a bachelor's degree pushes income up another $11,000, to a median $51,000, the report said.


Non-citizens lowest


The 8.7 million Hispanics 25 and older who are not U.S. citizens, whether they immigrated legally or illegally, have the lowest educational attainment of any group surveyed. Fully 60 percent had not completed high school, and 35 percent had no more than an eighth-grade education.

"I'm not surprised," Olivas said. "Those immigrants don't come here seeking education. They're seeking work." Eighth grade has long been the accepted cut-off point for school in families of limited means in Mexico, he said, and that nation only recently has begun emphasizing the need for a secondary education.

The study also calculated that among 3.7 million immigrant Hispanics who have become U.S. citizens, 40 percent have no diploma.

Camarota said one factor providing small consolation is that "at least it isn't getting worse."

He and Olivas emphasized that Hispanics' overall educational attainment must be viewed with an understanding that immigrants and native-born Latinos differ greatly. Those comparisons are available only on a national basis.

One statistic illustrates the stark difference. About 3 million U.S.-born Hispanics in the age group studied have completed high school, but among immigrants, half that number have completed fourth grade at most.

In the 25-and-older group, immigrants outnumber U.S.-born Latinos by a 4-3 ratio.


Rankings of U.S.-born


While native-born Hispanics are more highly educated than immigrants, they remain, on average, well behind Whites, Blacks and Asians, according to the survey. No figures on Native Americans and smaller racial groups were provided.

Among people born in the United States, 25 percent of Hispanics have no high school diploma, compared with 19 percent of Blacks, 10 percent of Anglos, and 6 percent of Asians.

The survey calculated that in Arizona, 100 percent of Asians in the 25-plus age group were high school graduates. But the small size of the sampling left a margin of error of more than 7 percentage points.

Nationally, Asians had the highest proportion of college graduates, just under 50 percent. Anglos were next, at 31 percent, followed by African-Americans at 18 percent and Hispanics at 12 percent.


No quick solutions


The relatively low levels of both high school and college completion by Hispanics often stem from cultural factors such as the education level of the parents, and the financial need for a young person to go to work, Camarota said.

"When you admit a group (to the United States) that has 60 percent without a high school education, it's not reasonable to expect that all of their kids will graduate from high school," he said. "You're just not going to close that gap in a generation or two."

A bill is moving through the Arizona Legislature that would restrict educational services for adults who are not citizens or legal residents of the United States.

Olivas, an advocate of helping immigrants obtain an education, said, "I think we're being short-sighted on what it means to have a better-educated citizenry, regardless of the language they speak." Investing in education "is going to come back four-, six-, eightfold over the long run," he said.