November 1, 2005

The Higher Drop-Out Rate of Foreign-Born Teens

V. Schooling Difficulties Abroad Persist in America

More than four out of five dropouts are recently arrived, and an important explanation can be found in the schooling they received abroad. In the voluminous literature on high school dropout behavior it is well established that a strong predictor of being out of school is earlier schooling difficulties. Youths who have previously dropped out of school or been retained in grade are much more likely to drop out than other youths (Hauser, 1999; NCES, 1997). Similarly, youths who are performing poorly academically are at greater risk of dropping out (Driscoll, 1999; Rumberger, 1995). This basic research finding has not been applied to foreign-born youth.

The elevated non-enrollment rates of recently arrived foreign-born youths are strongly related to schooling difficulties experienced by the youths before migration to the United States. In 2000, the dropout rate for the 60,000 recently arrived youths who had schooling difficulties before migration was above 70 percent (Figure 3). In sharp contrast, about 10 percent of recent arrivals who had continuous schooling abroad are currently out of school. Schooling difficulties before migration are highly predictive of dropout status in the United States.

Recent arrivals who had interrupted education abroad were 6 percent of all foreign-born teens, but because of their inordinately high dropout rate, they constituted 38 percent of all foreign-born school dropouts (Figure 4). It is a small population that is a large part of the immigrant dropouts.

Among recently arrived youths, those who had schooling difficulties before migration are nearly half of the recently arrived school dropouts, although they account for only a tenth of recently arrived youths.

The relevance of the youth’s schooling progress before migration to the youth’s present school status is quite universal. Regardless of country of origin, schooling difficulties before migration presage elevated dropout rates in the United States (Table 3). Among the large Mexican-born population, 21 percent of recent arrivals who do not appear to have had schooling difficulties before migration are dropouts. However, of recently arrived Mexican-born teens who did not keep up in school before coming to the United States, 83 percent are not enrolled in school. About 11 percent of recently arrived Puerto Rican-born youths who stayed on track in Puerto Rico are currently not enrolled in school. Among their counterparts who fell behind in Puerto Rico, 54 percent are out of school. Among recent arrivals from China who made normal progress in Chinese schools before migrating to the United States, about 4 percent are out of school, but among those who lagged in school before coming to the United States, almost 32 percent are school dropouts. Previous education difficulties are highly predictive of current schooling status.

While recent arrivals who had schooling difficulties before migration clearly have elevated dropout rates, are there enough of them to make much of a difference? In the aggregate, the answer is clearly yes. For most countries of origin, there are enough of these youths and their dropout rates are high enough that they constitute a significant portion of the dropouts from that country (Table 4). More than half of the dropouts from Guatemala are recent arrivals who had schooling difficulties before migrating. On the lower end, 10 percent of the dropouts from the Caribbean (other than Puerto Rico) are recent arrivals with interrupted schooling abroad. The importance of recent arrivals with relatively low schooling upon arrival is pertinent to understanding the schooling difficulties of youths from countries of origin besides just Mexico and Central America.