Large Percentage of Black Students at U.S. Colleges and Graduate Schools Are Foreign Born

Data obtained by JBHE from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that a significant percentage of all black students in K-12 schools, in college, and in graduate school have parents that were not born in the United States. Moreover, a very large percentage of black college and graduate students are foreign born.

Here are the figures: In 2003, 13.6 percent of all black students in K-12 education in the United States had at least one parent who was born in a foreign country. This is almost double the rate for whites. Yet only 3.5 percent of black children in K-12 education in the United States were born outside this country. Still this is more than double the rate for whites.

The percentage of foreign-born blacks rises significantly when we examine enrollments at the college and graduate school level. For undergraduate black students in 2003, 22.2 percent had at least one parent born outside of the United States. More than 15 percent of all black undergraduate students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities were born in a foreign land. This is four times the rate for whites. Less than 4 percent of white undergraduates were foreign born.

At the graduate level, 22.8 percent of the enrolled black students had one or both parents who were foreign born. For enrolled black graduate students, 16.5 percent, or one of every six, were born outside the U.S. For whites, 7.6 percent of all graduate students were foreign born.

The data strongly suggests that recent black immigrants to this country are far more likely than native-born African Americans to enroll in college. There are several possible explanations. Recent immigrants tend to be highly motivated individuals who came to this country to better their economic prospects. Therefore, they are more likely than native-born blacks to seek higher education.

Many members of this foreign-born group may have backgrounds from middle- or upper-class families whose parents can afford to send them to college in the United States. Also, many recent immigrants from Africa or predominantly black nations of the Caribbean have not suffered through a lifetime of racial discrimination and hostility. For many African Americans, growing up in a still somewhat racist society can have a negative psychological impact that dampens ambition and at times discourages efforts to try to improve one’s station in life.


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