This week the Mexa Institute released a report comparing the educational attainment of 20 groups in 2017 versus 1995, finding that in communities with Mexican roots, 24.3 percent of people aged 25 and over only have an elementary school education or less. This is the second highest rate out of all the immigrant groups (Guatemala is highest at 32.9 percent). The institute says that this gap is limiting their opportunities and development.
Although these rates have gone down throughout the years —more than two decades ago, in 1995, almost half of the population 25 and over fell in this category— the educational gap within groups of Mexican origin remains high, a cause for concern for the nonprofit based in Washington D.C., which concluded this community did not have adequate conditions to attain basic levels of education.
The research institute broke this information down using statistics from the Current Population Survey, or CPS, from the U.S. Census Bureau, but it is hard to determine whether the educational gap is spurred by first- or second-generation Mexicans since the research center conflated them into a single demographic group.
When comparing this data against other racial groups though, the research center found that communities of Mexican origin have the highest percentage of adults with only a primary education, 14 percent of the total, versus 8.5 percent of non-Mexican Hispanics, 3.7 percent Asian, 1.4 percent African American, and less than one percent White.
This rate went down from 28.7 percent back in 1995, a trend that is repeated in the rest of the racial and ethnic groups living in the United States.
“People of Mexican-origin in the United States are part of a deeply rooted community, with family, friends, and work. None of them intend to return to Mexico,” the Mexa Institute said in its report. “For the United States, this community represents the economic strength that will sustain the aging white American population.”
What Data Says for Other Groups
The Mexa Institute also compared Mexican-Americans’ education performance to those of other communities, composed mainly of Asian and other Latin American groups. In 2017, after Guatemala and Mexico, the countries with the highest rates of people 25 years or older who only have elementary schooling or less are: Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Back in 1995, this list was topped by Mexico —with a rate of 45 percent of underperforming academics— followed by Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, China and Vietnam.
The overall reduction of these rates is repeated among these groups as well: among people of Guatemalan heritage, the rates of people with the lowest educational levels shifted from 38 percent in 1995, to 32.9 percent in 2017. For Cubans, the measurement went from 19 percent in 1995 to 5.2 percent by 2017.
Latino Rebels spoke to an investigator from the Mexa Institute to help make sense of the comparison aspect of the data.
“It really depends with whom you are comparing. In this case we are comparing the Mexican community with other racial big groups, meaning white non-Hispanic, African American, Asian, and Hispanic, not Mexicans. Those are the big groups. We cannot include Guatemala here because they are not big enough to be on this comparison,” researcher Oscar Gómez said.
Here is the full Mexica Institute report:
Reasons Behind the Gap
While the nonprofit did not delve into the reasons behind the gap, other organizations have found that overall, students from poverty-impacted family backgrounds tend to not perform well in school. The National Education Association, or NEA, found that Hispanics “usually attend schools with inferior resources, lack access to health care, and often live in families that can’t advocate for them.”
Another challenge these communities face include a lack of adequate funding for schools serving minority or disadvantaged students, the NEA warns. Although 8 out of 10 English Language Learners (ELLs) are Hispanic, only 2.5 percent of the teachers who teach ELL students have a degree in bilingual education.
“There is a critical need for more ELL programs and a need to train and recruit more ELL teachers to serve this rapidly growing student population,” the NEA advised.
When looking at the performance of Latino populations in general and their performance at the college level, the numbers are also not encouraging. Recent studies showed that just 17.8 percent of Latinos ages 25-34 hold a bachelor’s degree, in contrast to 43.7 percent of young White adults.
The fear of deportation in the Trump era could also be a contributing factor keeping this educational disparity, as the anxiety of being deported or losing a loved one to deportation can cause depression, anxiety, and low school performance in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics found.
The Mexa Institute recommended that policymakers in both countries (the U.S. and Mexico) consider this demographic group and make them a priority, either by teaching parents and children how the U.S. educational system works, by empowering the immigrant parents through leadership programs to help them intercede and defend themselves and their communities, or by launching a scholarship program that would allow adults to complete their primary and secondary education.
Emily Corona is a digital intern at Futuro Media. She is a journalist and translator from Mexico City, pursuing a master’s in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at NYU. She tweets from @daminijo.