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Foreign-Born Residents Have Diverse Education Backgrounds

Fri Feb 24 2012
Julie Siebens
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The educational background of the foreign-born population compared with the native-born population is more diverse than some people may realize.

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At first glance, it may appear that foreign-born people simply have less education than the native-born population. In 2009, the percentage of the foreign-born population with less than a high school diploma or GED was 32.3 percent compared with 11.4 percent of the native-born population.

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However, the difference narrows as we look at higher levels of educational attainment — and they reverse at the very highest levels:

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  • Less than a high school diploma or GED is the highest education level attained for 32.3 percent of the foreign-born population and 11.4 percent of the native-born population.
  • A high school diploma or GED is the highest education level attained for 22.2 percent of the foreign-born population and 29.7 percent of the native-born population.
  • Some college or associate’s degree is the highest level attained for 18.7 percent of the foreign-born population and 30.8 percent of the native-born population.
  • A bachelor’s degree is the highest level attained for 15.8 percent of the foreign-born population and 17.9 percent of the native-born population.
  • A master’s degree is the highest level attained for 7.0 percent of the foreign-born population and 7.3 percent of the native-born population.
  • A professional degree is the highest level attained for 2.1 percent of the foreign-born population and 1.9 percent of the native-born population.
  • A doctorate degree is the highest level attained for 1.9 percent of the foreign-born population and 1.0 percent of the native-born population.

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There are other differences in educational attainment of the foreign-born population, including differences by state and region. Nationally, 35 percent of the population age 25 and over who had completed less than high school was foreign-born.

In Texas and Nevada, foreign-born people made up half or more of the population 25 and older who had not completed high school. In California, the foreign-born made up 70 percent of this population. Out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, nineteen states had a higher proportion of foreign-born adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree compared to the proportion of native-born adults who had completed college.

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The educational attainment of the foreign-born has also changed over time. The number of foreign-born residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 49 percent since 2000. In 2009, the foreign-born population made up 15 percent of the population 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree, up from 13 percent in 2000.

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For more details about educational attainment of the foreign-born population as well as other groups, see our report Educational Attainment in United States: 2009.

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