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Press Release · September 8, 2005

Gaining Ground: California’s Mexican American Children Make Strong Educational Progress Over Parents, Grandparents

But, by Third Generation, Still Lag Behind Other Groups

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 8, 2005 – Despite some research findings and popular impressions to the contrary, Mexican American immigrant children are making large educational gains over their parents and grandparents. According to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), Mexican Americans have made gains in high school and college completion between the first, second, and third generations. Nevertheless, Mexican Americans do not get as much education as other immigrant groups even by the third generation. This is particularly critical for them—and for the state, given the large and growing Mexican American population of California.

Overall, the children of immigrants clearly and consistently get more education than their parents. For example, the number of first-generation immigrant parents who are college graduates (15%) doubles among their second-generation descendents (30%). And between second-generation parents and their third-generation descendents, the number of college graduates rises from 16 percent to 26 percent.

Mexican Americans are no exception. While some prior research has found little or no progress in educational attainment between second- and third-generation immigrants of Mexican ancestry, the PPIC study provides evidence that this group is, in fact, making steady progress. The share who earn a high school diploma climbs steeply from 25 percent to 86 percent between first-generation parents and their second-generation children. Moreover, college completion rates quadruple from 3 percent to 12 percent. While progress between the second and third generation isn’t as large, it is substantial, rising from 46 to 82 percent for high school graduation and from 5 to 11 percent for college graduation.

“The findings overall are good news for the state – with a dose of caution,” says PPIC program director Deborah Reed, who co-authored the study with PPIC research fellows Laura Hill, Christopher Jepsen, and Hans Johnson. “Although all ethnic groups are making educational gains from generation to generation, the low education we find for Mexican Americans is disturbing.”

Indeed, despite the advances, educational attainment among Mexican Americans remains comparatively low. Among young adult Californians in third and subsequent generations, only a fraction of Mexican Americans graduate from college (11%), compared to much larger shares of East and South Asians (46%), and whites (38%).

This is particularly unsettling because Mexican Americans represent such a huge proportion of California’s young population. Among the state’s 13 to 24 year olds, Latinos are the largest group (41%) – and a vast majority of them are of Mexican ancestry (83%), according to the study, Educational Progress Across Immigrant Generations in California.

For the most part, the gulf between Mexican Americans and other ethnic groups reflects differences in family background. Mexican American children account for two-thirds (68%) of California children in families where neither parent has completed high school. “When parents have little education and few resources, their kids simply have more ground to make up,” says Reed. “Given the compelling role socioeconomic conditions play, the state should consider bolstering programs that assist parents – such as improving adult literacy and English language skills – and that target workplaces.”

This study was made possible by funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.