Science + Technology

High School Grads From Immigrant Families Succeed in College at Similar Rates to American-born Peers


UCLANeuropsychiatric Institute researchers find high school graduates fromimmigrant families succeed in college at similar rates as American-born peerswith similar economic and ethnic backgrounds. Students from immigrant familiesalso are more likely to support their families while in school.

In addition, highschool graduates from immigrant families with higher incomes and higher levelsof parent education achieved the highest success in college. This finding helpsto explain lower levels of success seen among Latin American children comparedwith East Asian children.

Appearing in thesummer edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Research on Adolescence, thestudy is among the first to examine the success of immigrant children inpost-secondary education. The William T. Grant Foundation and the NationalInstitute of Child Health and Human Development funded the research.

"The United Stateshas experienced a tremendous wave of immigration over the past 30 years. Theability of the children of immigrants to find educational success beyond highschool is critical to their economic integration into American society," said Dr. Andrew J. Fuligni, the paper'sco-author and senior research scientist at the UCLA NeuropsychiatricInstitute's Center for Culture and Health.

"Our overallfindings are encouraging," he said. "But there are signs that certain segmentsof the immigrant population, particularly those from Latin America, need moreassistance to participate fully in educational and related economic opportunitiesavailable in the United States."

Children fromimmigrant families currently comprise 20 percent of the population of childrenin the United States. These children face unique challenges to theireducational success compared with those from American-born families. Forexample, adolescents from immigrant families must attempt to negotiate Americanschools without benefit of parents raised in this society. In addition, thesechildren often are members of ethnic minority groups on whom the dominant societyfrequently projects negative stereotypes and diminished expectations.

The UCLA researcherssought to examine the post-secondary educational progress of an ethnicallydiverse group of youth from immigrant families, and to explore how these youthbalanced the demands of school, home and work after high school.

The team gathered data onthe post-secondary experiences of about 650 San Francisco Bay area youth from avariety of ethnic and generational backgrounds. Youth completed questionnairesand provided official school records in the 12th grade, and participated in aphone interview three years later.

Among other specificfindings:

           96 percent of thechildren of East Asian immigrant families who graduated from high schoolenrolled in post-secondary school, compared with 63 percent of children fromLatin American immigrant families.

           47 percent ofchildren from Latin American immigrant families provided financial support totheir families, compared with 20 percent of East Asian immigrant children.

           Although childrenfrom Latin American immigrant families exhibited less post-secondary successthan other groups, they still did better than would have been predicted fromtheir economic background, testifying to their motivation to succeed despitethe many challenges that they face.


Fuligni intends tocontinue following the academic success of these young adults to see how wellthey maintain the delicate balance of attending school while supporting theirfamilies.

Fuligni is anassociate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the DavidGeffen School of Medicine at UCLA. His co-author, Melissa Witkow, is a graduatestudent in the UCLA department of psychology.

The UCLANeuropsychiatric Institute is an interdisciplinary research and education institutedevoted to the understanding of complex human behavior, including the genetic,biological, behavioral and sociocultural underpinnings of normal behavior, andthe causes and consequences of neuropsychiatric disorders.

The institute's Center for Culture and Health is aninterdisciplinary research center composed of anthropologists, psychologists,sociologists and other biobehavioral social scientists whose research focuseson the impact of social and cultural factors on mental health, human development,and mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

Online resources:

        UCLANeuropsychiatric Institute:

        David Geffen Schoolof Medicine at UCLA:

        UCLA Center forCulture and Health:

        William T. GrantFoundation:



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