More than one-fourth of U.S. college students are from immigrant families

Immigrant-origin students—those who were born abroad, or born in the U.S. to immigrant parents—account for 58 percent of the growth in the nation’s college and university enrollment since 2000, according to a new study by the Migration Policy Institute. The report shows that 5.3 million students, or 28 percent of all students at U.S. colleges and universities, were of immigrant origin in 2018, up from 20 percent in 2000. 

Commissioned by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, of which Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia is a founding member, the study indicates that an “extraordinary demographic shift is sweeping through U.S. university campuses,” The New York Times writes. For instance, in 2018, immigrant-origin students accounted for around half of California’s college enrollment, as well as 30-40 percent of students at colleges in Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington.

Immigrant-origin students are predominantly nonwhite and overwhelmingly U.S. citizens or legal residents, the report says. The vast majority—83 percent—attended public institutions in 2018. And whereas international students tend to return to their countries of origin after graduating, immigrant-origin students typically remain in the United States, where they were raised. 

Immigrant-origin students are poised to become increasingly important to U.S. colleges and universities facing a “shrinking domestic pool of prospective college students in the 2020s,” Nathan Grawe, an economist at Carleton College, told the Times. “Immigrants, their children, and grandchildren are the future of higher ed,” he said.

Reaching and supporting immigrant-origin students

“The report confirms the importance of first and second generation immigrant students for the future of the United States. They are a racially diverse and growing community in higher education. It’s paramount for higher education institutions to reach out to immigrant-origin students,” Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said in a statement.

Higher education leaders must take care to ensure students from immigrant families can access, and thrive at, college, experts say. Those who are the first in their family to navigate college may be unfamiliar with the nuances of applying for admission and seeking financial aid. Many also come from low-income households and balance college alongside household responsibilities. “Being a first-generation college student, it’s a lot of pressure,” Crystal Tepale, a senior at New Jersey City University, told the Times. “My mom already says, ‘I am waiting for you to become someone in life with a career so that we can have a better life.’”

Topics in this story
, ,

Next Up

Colleges urge students to share changes in financial status, submit FAFSA

Financial aid offices are intensifying outreach to make sure current and prospective students understand their aid options as many families grapple with pandemic-related job and income loss.