December 4, 2002

The Improving Educational Profile Of Latino Immigrants

It is a commonplace claim that the education level of the Latino immigrant population is continually falling behind that of the U.S.-born population. However, the Pew Hispanic Center finds that the educational profile of the adult population of foreign-born Latinos has improved significantly during the past three decades. These gains, however, have not yet produced a notable convergence with the level of education in the native-born U.S. population. During the period 1970 to 2000 the native-born population also experienced improvements of education that outpaced the progress among Latino immigrants. Nonetheless, the trends identified in this report suggest that the gap between immigrants and natives will narrow in the future.
The Pew Hispanic Center tabulated U.S. Census Bureau survey data to track changes in the educational profile of the adult foreign-born population from 1970 to 2000. The data measure completed education for individuals 25-years-old and older when most people have finished their schooling. Educational trends are reflected in the percentage of adults who complete primary (6 years of schooling), secondary (12 years), or college education (14 and more years or associate’s degree and higher).

Other specific findings include the following:
• The percentage of adults with a high school education has grown faster among the foreign born than among natives since 1970. The educational profile of female immigrants has improved markedly.

• Fewer foreign-born Latinos than natives have completed college, but further gains by natives will be hard to sustain; therefore, this gap is not likely to grow.

• There remains a large but declining share of foreign-born adults who have no more than a primary education. These are older adults; consequently mortality will further reduce their numbers in the future. In the 1990s there was no increase in the number of foreign-born adults with less than a primary education.

• The number of foreign-born Latinos who come to the United States and receive their education here is growing, and this segment of the population has a better educational profile than immigrant Latinos who are educated abroad.

• Levels of educational achievement have improved in sending countries, and those who choose to migrate to the United States are better educated than those who stay behind.