The numbers coming out of the higher education industry are sobering for the current immigration climate.
That’s not news. Deportations of undocumented students have been on the rise — in 2017, the number of students deported who had been awarded diplomas or degrees jumped by more than 50 percent over the previous year — and a couple of months ago, The Times-Union in New Jersey reported that the number of students deported had quadrupled since 2001.
But there is a bright side to all this: Immigrant children, specifically the families of undocumented immigrants, are showing that if there is a future for them in the United States, college is it.
In fact, according to data from The Times-Union, the number of immigrants who graduated high school and went on to college rose by more than 40 percent over the past decade, with the proportion of students aged 25 and under — currently the fastest-growing group of college graduates — nearly doubling between 2010 and 2017. The proportion of young immigrants in the lower classes who have graduated from high school and gone on to college, however, is down by about 30 percent over the same period.
“The community of immigrant students is a rising tide that lifts more boats,” said Karlo O. Costa, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who tracks immigrant demographic data in the Northeast.
Immigrant students who grew up in the United States are an essential part of the country’s college and economic prosperity — one in eight students in the state of Virginia is currently a college student, and the College Board, which puts out the SATs, projects that there will be 16.6 million students in the United States who are eligible for higher education in the years to come.
In Virginia, the percentage of young immigrants who have graduated from high school and gone on to college is almost three times higher than the national average, reflecting a trend in other states as well.
Roughly one in three immigrants whose families have been in the United States for more than two generations is a college student, according to data from the Pew Research Center. The reasons for that are a mixture of factors that include immigration policies, economic opportunities and cultural factors, according to Mario Solis-Marich, an anthropology professor at the University of Virginia.
“The good news is that immigrant families are more educated — that’s a new development,” Solis-Marich said. “We see a shrinking fertility rate, so there are fewer young people who have the resources that young people need.”
Though families are doing better financially, the costs associated with accessing college education — from books to tuition to fees — are not going down. And even if they can pay for it, they face a host of challenges — racial identity issues, homelessness, legal issues and language barriers — that can make it difficult to communicate and meet deadlines on a regular basis.
Immigrants face such issues, but they are also solving the problem. For some immigrant families, the comfort they find in the college environment outweighs the societal pressure that accompanies continued education.
Niran Thakkar, a 37-year-old math teacher at Mount Calvary Christian School in Virginia, attended school in England for eight years. He came to the United States as a teenager to study engineering and got a degree in computer science.
He was one of the few students at Mount Calvary Christian who had the opportunities he had back in England, where the age cutoff for college was 25. As a math teacher, Thakkar said he was very active in a curriculum and college essay program that met the needs of all students in the high school.
“The curriculum was open to all kids, so students could identify opportunities at the local, national and international levels,” Thakkar said. “It was such a formative experience that it impacted my whole family.”