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Washington State’s Immigrant Young Adults Have Mixed Record of Success in High School and College, New Report Finds

Press Release
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Washington State’s Immigrant Young Adults Have Mixed Record of Success in High School and College, New Report Finds

WASHINGTON — Young adults who are immigrants or the children of immigrants have a mixed record of success in Washington State, with the performance of many English language learners lagging behind state averages even as the state’s immigrant youth have a relatively high level of college-degree attainment compared to other immigrants nationwide, the Migration Policy Institute reported today.

In a new report, Shaping Our Futures: The Educational and Career Success of Washington State’s Immigrant Youth, the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (NCIIP) examines the high school completion, college access and post-secondary success of immigrant youth (ages 16 to 26) in Washington State — where one in four young adults is an immigrant or child of an immigrant. Between 2001 and 2010 the state’s immigrant youth population grew by 51 percent – a far faster rate than the nation as a whole (14 percent).

The report provides one of the first cross-system analyses of the educational experiences of first-generation (foreign-born) and second-generation (U.S.-born with immigrant parents) youth in the state. The findings will be discussed at an event from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, June 27 at the Seattle Central Library with remarks by Seattle school Superintendent José Banda.

The report shows that the performance of many of the state’s 89,000 English language learners (ELLs) lags behind state averages. Only 53 percent of ELLs graduate from high school in four years, compared to 77 percent of all students.

The researchers find limited participation among ELLs and Latinos in courses that provide both high school and college credit: often thought to be an important strategy for promoting college access. And though the characteristics of ELLs vary greatly, data and accountability systems generally do not distinguish the needs of newly arrived immigrants and refugees from those of long-term ELLs, many of whom are U.S.-born students. At the same time, the authors point to Washington State school districts that have demonstrated substantial progress in developing curricula and in training teachers to meet the educational needs of immigrant youth.

“Our research underscores a real need for high school reforms that support the success of ELLs and former ELLs, as well as efforts to address barriers to college enrollment and completion commonly faced by immigrant youth,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.

Overall, immigrant youth in Washington have a relatively high level of college-degree attainment compared to other immigrants nationwide, though Latinos (the largest immigrant group in the state) are under-represented in the state’s post-secondary education institutions. Latinos comprised 16 percent of the state’s high school students in 2010 but only 9 percent of students in two-year colleges and 7 percent in four-year colleges. Seventy percent of Latino and black freshmen in two-year institutions are unprepared for college-level work and require remediation.

The state’s adult education system assumes a critical role in providing basic skills and English instruction for immigrant youth who did not graduate from high school. However, adult education programs in community and technical colleges have been especially hard hit by budget cuts, and enrollment in these courses fell by 11 percent in the 2011-12 school year — representing a third consecutive year of declines.

The recession has taken a toll on college access and workforce preparation initiatives. According to MPI Senior Vice President and NCIIP Co-Director Michael Fix, “While state and local leaders have pursued programs in the past to bolster the educational outcomes of immigrant youth populations, many promising approaches have stalled or been cut back in the past several years.”

The report documents these education challenges as Congress is debating what would be the first major national immigration overhaul in decades. Proposed reforms could have significant local implications, including providing the state’s 38,000 unauthorized immigrant youth with legal status and requiring the legalizing population to increase its English language proficiency.

“If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform this session, the demand for adult English instruction, career training and post-secondary education will increase dramatically, testing the state’s ability to leverage its own policy and program experiments and bring solutions to scale,” said MPI Policy Analyst Sarah Hooker, who co-authored the study.

The report — the first of a multi-state series supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — offers recommendations that include developing a sustainable funding model for adult education and stronger data collection on ELL and immigrant youth. The findings were drawn from data analysis and interviews with school district and community college administrators and faculty, community-based organizations and workforce boards, among others.

Read the report here.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.

MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders and activists, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities. For more on the center’s work, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/integration.