An Examination of How Legal Status Affects Enrollment and Graduation Rates: Immigrant Students in Colleges and Universities

An Examination of How Legal Status Affects Enrollment and Graduation Rates: Immigrant Students in Colleges and Universities

Florence Nyemba (University of Cincinnati, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9108-5.ch007
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This chapter explores the educational choices of immigrants and how the issue of legal or immigration status contributes to social inequality in the United States classrooms and institutions of higher learning. Immigrants within U.S. population have increased dramatically, yet their educational attainment remains small in comparison to native-born Americans. Although large numbers of immigrant students graduate from high school, their path to higher education remains difficulty with fewer getting college degrees. Drawing on literature from multiple disciplines, the issue of immigration status in relation to immigrant education is examined. The chapter recommends the adoption of immigration reform legislations that create better pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and progressive educational provisions. This chapter benefits immigrants and educational leaders in institutions of higher learning.
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Historical Overview Of Migration To The United States

It is important in this chapter to provide a brief background on the nature of migration to the United States to help readers understand why and how immigrants end up categorized into documented and illegal/ unauthorized /undocumented as the three terms are used synonymously. Access to higher education among other resources for immigrants are accessed based on these two categories of documented or unauthorized status. Like other developed nations, the United States has been experiencing a growing number of immigrants both documented and undocumented, looking for better opportunities as the global level of forced displacement across international borders continues to rise (Rong & Preissle, 2009; United Nations, 2017a). Among the major reasons for this displacement is economic and political instability. Economic instability is a commonly cited reason for migration and an improvement in modern transportation system makes it easier than before for people to move between countries and continents with unprecedented speed in search of better employment opportunities (Rong & Preissle, 2009; United Nations, 2017a). Most developing nations especially in the African continent are failing to economically provide for their populations forcing the majority to live in poverty (Yewah & Togunde, 2010). High unemployment rates are recorded in developing countries driving people to migrate to developed nations where there are better wages and more employment opportunities (Massey, 1988; Palát, 2011; Westmore, 2015; Yewah & Togunde, 2010). It is in this venture that upon arrival to the United States, some individuals recognize the benefits in improving their educational qualifications to compete with native born Americans on the job market. Higher levels of education are very much associated with higher average incomes, higher rates of labor force attachment, and lower rates of poverty and welfare use (Baum & Flores, 2011).

Political instability and religious persecutions that lead to humanitarian crisis in many developing countries have also forced more displacement with affected individuals seeking refuge and asylum in nations that are politically stable (United Nations, 2017a). The effects of past struggles for decolonization, majority rule and apartheid; post-independence conflicts involving political struggle, ethnicity, religious intolerance across several developing nations are all contributing to gross human rights violations (Matlou, 1999; Yewah & Togunde, 2010). As a result, as many as 25.9 million of all international migrants are refugee seekers (United Nations, 2017a). Developed regions hosted about 82.5 percent of these refugees and asylum seekers by the end of 2016 and the number continues to rise each year (United Nations, 2017a). North American region including the United States alone was hosting the third largest number of international migrants in 2016 (United Nations, 2017a).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Educational Institutions: Refers to colleges and universities where an individual’s economic status determines his or her success in pursuing their educational dreams. Also, it is in institutions of higher learning where students and their parents are financially responsible for their education.

Undocumented/Unauthorized/Illegal Immigrant: Refers to individuals who entered the United States illegally, or those who entered legally but have expired visas due to over staying. Unauthorized immigrants also refer to those individuals who are in the process of legalizing their status through venues such as marriage, asylum, refugee, and green cards.

Documented/Authorized/Legal Immigrant Status: Refers to whether an individual is a temporary or permanent resident of the United States. Among these include green card holders, asylee, and refugee-granted immigrants.

F-1 Student Visa: A visa is given to foreign born individuals for educational purpose only and they are expected to return to their countries upon graduating from their programs.

Social Inequality: Refers to the unequal distribution of educational resources based on nationality or citizenship status. These resources include approving asylee or refugee applications, access to educational resources such as student loans, grants and scholarships, employment, and health insurance.

Foreign-Born: Refers to individuals born outside the United States or not U.S. citizens at birth. Immigrants that had adjusted their immigration status to American citizenship also fall under the category of foreign born.

Native-Born: Refers to individuals born in the United States. This also includes children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. These children automatically become American citizens by birth.

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