Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Hispanics, High School Dropouts and the GED

VI. Hispanic Immigrants and the GED

Hispanic immigrants are one of the country’s least educated populations. More than half of Hispanic immigrants do not have at least a high school diploma (52%), twice the rate of native-born Hispanics (25%). As Table 5 shows, more recently arrived immigrant Hispanic adults are not much better educated than Hispanic immigrants who have been in the United States for decades.5 With the exception of adults who arrived before 1970, a majority of immigrant Hispanic adults in 2008 were high school dropouts.

The relatively poor education of Hispanic immigrants reflects the fact that most Hispanic immigrants are educated not in the U.S. but in less developed countries. Hispanic immigrants who arrived in the U.S. early in childhood and thus were enrolled in U.S. elementary and secondary schools are much better educated. Of those who arrived under the age of 10, only about one-quarter were high school dropouts in 2008, and their education approximates that of native-born Hispanic adults (Table 5). Most immigrant Hispanic adults arrived in the United States after age 14 (80%), and a majority of them were high school dropouts.

Despite their high dropout rates, Hispanic immigrants have low levels of GED credentialing. Only 3% of Hispanic immigrants have GEDs, compared with 4% for the entire U.S. adult population. Hence, the potential for Hispanic immigrant dropouts to improve their lot through further postsecondary education and training is very limited because they lack the required credential.

There is some evidence, though, that as Hispanic immigrants spend more time in the United States, their skills and education improve. For example, immigrants’ English language proficiency improves with duration of residence (Chiswick and Miller, 1998). Many adult immigrants are enrolled in school, and their educational attainment increases as they spend more time in the United States (Betts and Lofstrom, 2000).

Though there is only suggestive evidence, it does appear that Hispanic immigrants increasingly obtain GEDs the longer they reside in the United States.6 Table 5 indicates that only 1% of recently arrived immigrants have a GED. Among those who have been in the United States for 10 years or more, at least 3% have a GED. So with more time in the United States, more Hispanic immigrants may acquire GEDs.

  1. This does not imply that the education levels of Hispanic immigrants coming to the United States have not improved over time. Hispanic immigrants coming to the U.S. today are clearly better educated upon arrival than those who arrived in earlier decades were upon arrival (Fry, 2006). Table 5 cannot be used to make inferences about the educational quality of immigration cohorts because it is a static snapshot. For example, to compare today’s recent arrivals to immigrants who came in the 1970s, we would wish to know the educational attainment of the 1970s immigrants when they arrived here. But Table 5 does not reveal that. Table 5 shows the educational attainment of 1970s immigrants in 2008, not when they first got here. Between when they got here and 2008, some 1970s Hispanic immigrants emigrated, some died and some increased their educational attainment.
  2. Echoing the previous footnote’s discussion, the evidence is only “suggestive” because Table 5 does not follow the GED rate of a given group of immigrants over time. To accomplish that, one would need GED rates at earlier points in time, but the U.S. Census Bureau did not ascertain possession of a GED until 2008.
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