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Study Reveals That Top Science Students Are Children of Immigrants

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girl writingWritten by Bridget Feldmann:

Yet another positive improvement this country gains from its immigrant population was revealed on Tuesday, when a newly released study showed that top science students in the U.S. are primarily the children of immigrants. This new data should strike a chord for a nation at risk of falling behind in the global scientific community. The study states:

While only 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born, 70 percent of the finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search competition were the children of immigrants, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis.

Maybe the reason our country is lacking in scientific progress is that we aren’t giving the right people a chance to contribute. How can we hope to move ahead if we shut out genius from other parts of the world?

Immigrant parents have been stressing the importance of education to their children, seeing it as the pathway to success in the U.S. And, as a result, immigrant youth have been found to be participating in postsecondary education with more frequency than their native counterparts. According to a recent Future of Children Journal article, researchers Allison Hagy and J.F.O. Staniec found evidence that reiterates this fact:

They examine postsecondary enrollment patterns within two years of graduation among 1992 high school graduates. Defining the first generation as the foreign-born children of immigrants and the second generation as U.S.-born children of immigrants, they observe that 75% of first-generation and 71% of second-generation high school graduates enrolled in postsecondary education, compared with only 65% of natives. Controlling for individual characteristics, Hagy and Staniec find that first-generation immigrant status is significant in increasing the probability of enrolling in college.

The article explains this phenomenon as a result of “immigrant optimism.” Immigrants risking everything to come here have higher expectations, as well as much more to lose, than previously documented citizens do. Because of this, even in the face of socioeconomic disabilities, immigrant families (and the eager students they produce) tend to have more psychological motivation to overcome those disadvantages. A Mercury News article quoted Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, the director of research in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, and a native of India:

“Here you take the cream of the crop from their birthplace abroad, then put them in some of the best schools in the world … these students are really, really competitive and work very hard, inspired by their parents, and represent all the American ideals”

 Wadhwa stated that families here on H-1B visas are also driven by the goal of regaining former economic status, which is typically lost when they immigrate to the States.

“The families are upper echelon. They leave their country at the top of the social ladder, then come here at the bottom. As an immigrant, you are treated differently, and you have to struggle, and work harder, to catch up again. They watch their parents work hard and struggle and then they gain the same motivation. They seek to prove themselves to their families.”

Taking into account the increasingly significant role of immigrants in our society, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the potential their future generations may bring to the table. If given the adequate opportunity and resources to succeed in postsecondary education, these youth present the ability to push our nation beyond its wildest dreams of progress.