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EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS ACROSS IMMIGRANT GENERATIONS: Report Finds That Mexican Americans’ Educational Attainment Lags Behind Other Immigrant Groups, Warns Disparity Could Jeopardize California’s Future Labor Force

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"Although entire groups are making educational gains from generation to generation, the low education we find for Mexican Americans is disturbing."

As the children of first- or second-generation Mexican immigrants enter the U.S. school system, they quickly move beyond the educational attainment levels that were achieved by their parents and grandparents. But these gains begin to slow by the third generation, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Educational Progress Across Immigrant Generations in California found that the share of Mexican Americans who earn a high school diploma climbs steeply from the first to the second generation-from 25 percent for Mexican-born parents to 86 percent for their American-born children. However, the gain between second- and third-generation Mexican Americans is not as steep, and leaves them behind other immigrant groups in educational attainment. Considering that Mexican Americans make up such a huge percentage of California’s young population, their low educational achievement should be of considerable concern, both to individuals and to the state as a whole.

“The findings overall are good news for the state-with a dose of caution,” said PPIC Program Director Deborah Reed, who coauthored the study. “Although entire groups are making educational gains from generation to generation, the low education we find for Mexican Americans is disturbing.”

According to the study, young adults of Mexican descent have the lowest levels of education among all the major racial and ethnic groups in California. Among Mexican youth aged sixteen to eighteen who recently arrived in the United States, less than half are even enrolled in school. Rather than attending school, most of the men are working and most of the women are working, married, or raising children. In order to reach workers, the report suggests that adult education programs in school districts and community colleges could provide part-time, evening, and weekend coursework that these individuals need. It also suggests that employers could offer programs that help workers develop English language and literacy skills.

Of Mexican Americans ages twenty-five to twenty-nine living in California, only 51 percent have earned their high school diploma, compared to 93 percent of non-Hispanic whites. For the individuals who enroll in and attend school, learning English is obviously a chief concern, but the report adds that educational counseling programs and tutoring could also be helpful. It notes that about 30 percent of California’s children are growing up in families where neither parent completed high school.

The report found that more Mexican Americans earn a high school diploma if they are born in the United States (76 percent), but noted that very few continued their education beyond high school. In fact, among third-generation Mexican Americans, only 11 percent have obtained a bachelor’s degree, compared to over 38 percent for third-generation whites. According to the report, if progress continues at the current rate, only 17 percent of the grandchildren of today’s Mexican immigrants will attain a bachelor’s degree.

“What happens to the second and third generations of Mexican Americans is the story of California,” Reed told the Los Angeles Daily News. “While we see progress, it’s not sufficient to meet California’s economic needs.”

In order to help increase the college enrollment and persistence among Mexican Americans, the report offers community colleges as the best entry point. With their open-admission policies, low fees, flexible schedules, and local availability, community colleges present an attractive option. In fact, almost 80 percent of Latinos who enroll in postsecondary education begin at community colleges. “As the value of education and skills in the California economy continues to grow, [community college courses] will become increasingly important to workforce training, especially for those who do not go on to complete a bachelor’s degree,” the report reads.

“Even with all of the adaptive capabilities of California’s huge and complex economy, it does not and will not have the capacity to absorb a low-skilled, poorly educated population indefinitely,” wrote David W. Lyon, PPIC’s president and CEO, in the foreword. “Education has always been and will continue to be the key to success for this and future generations. It is time to address this critical component of the education issue-educating and training our immigrant youth to be highly productive members of the labor force in future years and decades.”

The complete report is available at http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=402.

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