New Study Reveals Immigrant Blacks Outpace Native Blacks and Whites in Selective College Enrollment

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by Michelle J. Nealy

ABSTRACT of report

 

High school students from Black immigrant populations enroll in selective colleges at a higher rate than U.S.-born Blacks and Whites, because they have greater access to resources that influence postsecondary success, say the authors of a new study.

In their new study, published in the journal Sociology of Education, Dr. Pamela R. Bennett, an assistant professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Amy Lutz, an assistant professor of sociology at Syracuse University, tracked the enrollment rates for White, native Black and immigrant Black high school students into community colleges, historically Black institutions, four-year non-selective and four-year selective colleges and universities.

“The most important finding of the study is the [reality] that that both third- and later-generation African-Americans and first- and second-generation (immigrant) Blacks are more likely than similar Whites to attend college, including selective colleges,” says Bennett who is the report’s lead researcher.

 

Their findings reveal that immigrant Blacks or Blacks with immigrant origins enroll in all postsecondary institutions at a greater rate than native-born Blacks and Whites. Moreover, the report indicates that selective colleges enroll nearly four times as many Black immigrants, at 9.2 percent, than native-born Blacks, at 2.4 percent, and Whites, at 7.3 percent. Enrollment among both groups of Blacks in two-year colleges and four-year non-selective schools were virtually equal, teetering, respectively, at 41 percent and 30 percent.

But immigrant Blacks do not value education more, and they are not outperforming native Blacks academically, says Bennett.

“When we compare immigrant Blacks to African-Americans from similar family socioeconomic backgrounds, we find no significant differences between them in their chances of attending college,” says Bennett. “The overall differences we observe are due to differences in their family resources, not because immigrant Blacks are out-performing African-Americans.”

Adds Bennett: “Our findings indicate that [immigrant Blacks] have greater resources, in the form of family structure and private school attendance that are universally helpful in providing opportunities to go to college.”

According to the data, both groups of Blacks are disadvantaged relative to Whites, yet there are important differences between native and immigrant Blacks that could explain the prevalence of immigrant Blacks at selective schools. A larger percentage of immigrant Blacks than native Blacks come from two-parent families and private schools. And nationally both Afro-Caribbeans and Africans have higher household incomes than native Blacks, while African immigrants have higher levels of educational attainment than both native Blacks and Whites.

An earlier report highlighting the predominance of foreign-born Blacks at selective institutions emerged in 2007 in the American Journal of Education. Using data from the “National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen of 1998,” researchers from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania found that among students at the top 28 universities, the representation of Black students with immigrant origins was at 27 percent, twice that of native Blacks at 13 percent. Within the Ivy League, immigrant-origin students made up 41 percent of Black freshmen.

Lutz and Bennett expanded their study to focus on a larger number high school graduates at four varying types of institutions, instead of simply isolating the selective institutions. Their overall data showed that Native Blacks had the largest percentage of students who enrolled in HBCUs, while Whites had the largest percentage of students to attended non-selective four-year colleges.

“I am struck by the fact that the percentages of the two groups [of Black students] who attend non-selective colleges that are not HBCUs are so similar at 30.2 percent for immigrant Blacks and 30 percent for native Blacks,” says Bennett, suggesting that maybe the differences observed between the groups in their enrollments in selective colleges is driven by preference.

“Might it be that some African-Americans who could have attended one of the selective colleges in our data attended an HBCU instead?” asks Bennett. “Perhaps some gifted African-American students are more likely to apply to an HBCU over a selective college because of financial concerns, because they wish to remain faithful to a family tradition or for a host of other reasons that make HBCUs attractive to some students.”

The disparity in college attendance at the nation’s premier universities first gained national attention in 2003 when Harvard University professors Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates Jr. noted that of the university’s 530 Black undergraduates in 2003-2004, only about 180 could claim a completely Black American heritage.



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