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Reports & Research

May 3, 2018

PPIC Study
Recent Immigrants More Likely than U.S.-Born Californians to Be College Graduates

According to a recently-released study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), recent immigrants are more likely than US-born Californians to be college graduates.
The study found that in 2016, 51% of working-age immigrants (aged 25 to 64) who had lived in California for five years or less had bachelor’s or graduate degrees, while 10% had minimal formal education (middle school or less). Educational attainment among newly arrived adult immigrants has increased markedly since 1980, when 15% had graduated from college and 37% had minimal formal education. In fact, recent immigrants have had bigger gains than US-born residents: the share of college graduates among US-born Californians increased from 21% in 1980 to 37% in 2016.

Recent immigrants are more likely than other Californians to have bachelor’s and graduate degrees

figure - Recent immigrants are more likely than other Californians to have bachelor’s and graduate degrees

SOURCE: 2016 American Community Survey, adults age 25 to 64.

Other findings of the study:

  1. Most recent immigrants are from Asia-and a majority of Asian immigrants are college educated.
    In 2016, 59% of newly arrived immigrants were from Asia, more than twice the share from Latin America (26%). The majority (56%) of Asian immigrant adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. Immigrants from India are the fastest growing and best-educated group in California: the immigrant population from India has increased 478% since 1990, and 77% of these immigrants have college degrees.
  2. California increasingly depends on immigrants to meet demand for highly educated workers...
    Immigrants make up about 30% of California workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, up from only 8% in 1950. Highly educated immigrants work in every major industry in the state and are especially well-represented in the technology and health sectors. Almost half (49%) of college graduates in computer and data processing services are immigrants, as are 60% of college graduates in nursing and personal care.

The share of immigrants among California workers with college degrees has grown

Figure - The share of immigrants among California workers with college degrees has grown

SOURCES: 2016 American Community Survey; decennial censuses, employed workers.

NOTE: The figure shows employed California residents with at least a bachelor’s degree.

  1. ...but the state economy continues to rely on immigrants with little formal education.
    In 2016, 32% of working-age immigrants in California had not graduated from high school, compared to 7% of US-born Californians. An additional 20% of immigrants in California finished high school but did not attend college, similar to US-born residents (21%). Immigrants make up a large share of workers in industries that require little formal education, including agricultural production and the hospitality industry.
  2. Strong educational progress occurs across generations.
    The children of immigrants in California and in the nation as a whole tend to be much better educated than their parents. About three in four (74%) first-generation immigrants age 57 to 66 have graduated from high school, compared to 93% of second-generation Californians aged 30 to 39. Educational attainment among second generation Californians is similar to that of other US-born residents.

Most Californians are concerned about the impact of federal immigration enforcement.

Three-quarters of Californians (76%) are concerned about the impact of federal immigration enforcement on undocumented college and university students-including those covered by the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy. The level of concern is particularly high among those born outside the US (81%). Similarly, seven in ten Californians are concerned about the impact of enforcement on K-12 students in their local public schools. Two in three support their local school district designating itself a “sanctuary safe zone.”

Source: American Community Survey; decennial censuses; Current Population Surveys, PPIC Statewide Survey, November 2017April 2018.



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