Survey Examines Immigrant Freshmen

Posted: June 29, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Megan McDonnell

A total of 18 percent of the 2003 first-time, full-time freshmen at George Mason were born outside the United States, according to a special report of the 2003 Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey. The study, released by the Office of Institutional Assessment, highlights Mason’s diversity and the differences between native and non-native freshmen.

Out of 2,192 freshmen enrolled, 1,139 completed the survey, for a response rate of 52 percent. For purposes of the study, freshmen were classified as native freshmen (children of U.S.-born parents); immigrant family freshmen (students born in the United States to foreign-born parents or those who immigrated to the United States before age six); and immigrant freshmen (students who immigrated after age six).

Of the survey respondents, 59 percent of the immigrant family freshmen and 61 percent of immigrant freshmen were Asian/Pacific Islander; and 12 percent of each group was Latino. Ten percent of the immigrant family freshmen and 12 percent of immigrant freshmen were white/Caucasian; and 4 percent of immigrant family freshmen and 5 percent of immigrant freshmen were black. Fourteen percent of the immigrant family freshmen and 10 percent of the immigrant freshmen classified themselves as “other.”

Immigrant freshmen are more likely to have less educated parents, with 36 percent being the first in their family to go to college. However, the study found that immigrant freshmen have higher educational aspirations than their native peers. Twenty-nine percent of immigrant freshmen plan to get a doctoral degree, and another 16 percent plan to earn a medical degree, figures much higher than those for immigrant family freshmen and native freshmen. This may explain why the most important reasons for immigrant freshmen to go to college are to “prepare for graduate or professional school” and to “get training for a specific career.” Native freshmen and immigrant family freshmen are more likely to identify with the reason “to learn more things of interest.”

The CIRP study found that parental influence may be another reason for the higher educational aspirations of immigrant freshmen. Most studies that have compared immigrant and U.S.-born attitudes toward education find greater emphasis on educational success and higher aspirations for educational attainment among immigrant parents. Immigrant and immigrant family freshmen were found to be more likely to attend college as a result of their parent’s wishes.

Other interesting findings were:

  • Freshmen from immigrant backgrounds expect to study for longer hours in college than their native peers. Immigrant freshmen (36 percent) and immigrant family freshmen (29 percent) are more likely to say that they will spend two hours or more studying for each hour in class or labs than native freshmen (17 percent).
  • Immigrant family freshmen (38 percent) are the most likely to say that it is “essential” for them to attend a college with a multi-ethnic student body, compared with 31 percent of immigrant freshmen and 22 percent of native freshmen.
  • Understandably, freshmen whose first language is not English are less confident with their language skills. A larger portion anticipates tutoring or remedial work in college in English, reading, writing, social studies, and science. While they rate themselves lower on writing ability and public speaking, they consistently rate themselves higher on mathematical ability than their native peers.
  • Immigrant freshmen are less likely to smoke, drink, and discuss politics and religion. Compared to their native peers, they spend less time working for pay in high school, socializing with friends, exercising, or participating in sports.

The study concludes that the different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that students bring with them enrich the university community and provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn from each other. At the same time, the diversity poses challenges to the university, such as ensuring that students from immigrant backgrounds have ample opportunities to improve their reading, writing, and speaking skills, and meeting the needs of first-generation students who are least likely to have parents who can help them navigate the higher education system. Another need is for the university to look for additional ways to involve the less socially active immigrant students in various campus activities since researchers have found that being involved in campus life contributes to student retention and graduation.

The complete 2003 Freshman Survey, from which the study was derived, is available online (Adobe Acrobat reader required).

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