Even as the children of immigrants represent a growing share of Georgia’s youth (ages 16-26), the state’s ambitious education reforms often fail to target this group of U.S.-born and foreign-born students — many of whom have lower high school graduation rates and face greater barriers to adult education and public college enrollment, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report finds.
In Education Reform in a Changing Georgia: Promoting High School and College Success for Immigrant Youth, MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (NCIIP) examines the high school achievement and adult education and post-secondary success of immigrants and the children of immigrants in Georgia. These youth now account for one in five residents between ages 16 and 26 in the state. The report, which provides one of the first cross-system analyses of the educational experiences of Georgia first- and second-generation youth, draws on fieldwork conducted in Gwinnett County, home to the largest immigrant population in Georgia, and DeKalb County, the state’s top refugee resettlement destination.
Georgia’s immigration history is a recent one, with major flows during the 1990s (when its 233 percent growth rate was surpassed by only one state) and the 2000s. While immigration has slowed since the recession, the second-generation youth population (the U.S.-born children of immigrants) has grown steadily and substantially: increasing 43 percent over a recent five-year period.
Many of these U.S.-born youth are English language learners (ELLs). These students face extra hurdles in mastering language skills and academic content — challenges that state policies and school district practices have not kept pace in addressing.
Drawing on analysis of U.S. Census and state administrative data, the report finds that:
- Students who are ELLs had a four-year high school graduation rate of 44 percent in 2012, compared to the state’s overall 70 percent graduation rate
- Nearly one-third of the state’s foreign-born youth ages 21-26 lack a high school diploma or GED — more than double the state’s overall rate of 13 percent
- Twenty-nine percent of the high school students designated as ELLs are long-term ELLs, having been in U.S. schools for six years or more
- Hispanics face a steep drop-off in enrollment between secondary and post-secondary education — accounting for 10 percent of the state’s high school students, 4 percent of technical college enrollment and 5 percent of students at University System of Georgia (USG) institutions in spring 2012.
“Georgia has played a leading role in national efforts to improve the college and career readiness of high school graduates and has also demonstrated a commitment to post-secondary education reform,” said MPI CEO and Director of Studies Michael Fix. “Yet these reforms often lack a focus on ELLs and immigrants, who often face distinct challenges and barriers.”
Programs in the state’s technical colleges that combine adult basic education and career training, for instance, are not generally designed to serve students with limited English proficiency. And there is no evidence of a state strategy to build language proficiency for long-term ELL students in elementary and secondary school.
As the authors found in other states studied as part of this research project, dual enrollment programs intended to ease the transition from high school to college and accelerate learning are generally unavailable to ELLs in Georgia.
Georgia is among three states with the most restrictive bans on access to top-tier public colleges for unauthorized immigrants, including those granted status under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Georgia also bars enrollment in the state’s adult education system for unauthorized immigrants, denying a pathway to DACA status for those who lack a high school diploma or are not enrolled in high school but could otherwise qualify for the program. The reach of these policies is broad in a state where 62 percent of first-generation youth are unauthorized — a share significantly higher than the 47 percent national average. The report notes that unauthorized immigrants represent 6.5 percent of the state’s total youth population.
The report identifies promising practices and offers a range of recommendations. Among them: investing in ELL-focused professional development for K-12 teachers; integrating adult English as a Second Language (ESL) and workforce training programs; rescinding the ban on access to adult education for youth who would otherwise be eligible for DACA; and allowing academically qualified DACA recipients to enroll in the state’s top colleges.
“Our research underscores a real need to extend and scale up reforms that support the success of immigrant students at all levels of the education system,” said Margie McHugh, director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “The changes stand to benefit not just these students but the state’s economy, particularly given that Georgia is projecting it will need 250,000 more college-educated workers by 2020.”
Added report coauthor Sarah Hooker: “The state cannot afford to ignore the needs, strengths and outcomes for its large and growing immigrant and second-generation youth population.”
The findings of the report — the second of a multi-state series supported through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — were drawn from data analysis and interviews with school district and community college administrators and faculty, community-based organizations and state agencies, among others.