Immigrants value education – so we should value them

January 7, 2016

By Ross Finnie and Richard Mueller, Globe and Mail |

In the past month, Canadians have witnessed the arrival of the first of 25,000 Syrian refugees expected to make a new home here by the end of February. More may be arriving after that.

The main theme in the news media so far has been the debate about the short-term costs and challenges of bringing such a substantial number of immigrants from a war-torn region, as well as longer-term concerns about the possibility of raising future generations of “home-grown” terrorists.

In our recent research on this subject, we take a different longer-term perspective in addressing how the children of immigrants perform in terms of postsecondary education (PSE) in Canada. This is important because PSE is critical, not only to an individual’s economic and social success, but also to the country’s prosperity.

Our analysis shows that first- and second-generation children of immigrants access PSE at much higher rates than non-immigrant youth. By the age of 21, 86 per cent of first-generation children of immigrants (that is, those who themselves immigrated to Canada along with their parents) obtained postsecondary education, with 84 per cent of second-generation immigrants (those born in Canada to immigrant parents) doing the same.

This record on the part of the children of immigrants compares favourably to the 72-per-cent PSE participation rate among non-immigrant youth. For those from the region that includes Syria, 93 per cent and 96 per cent of first- and second-generation children of immigrants, respectively, had moved into postsecondary education by the age of 21, with most having attended university rather than college or trade school.

What is the reason for these high participation rates? To some degree, they are the result of adult immigrants to Canada tending to have relatively high levels of PSE (due to our immigrant-selection criteria). Their children are, therefore, also more likely to pursue postsecondary education, as PSE participation has a large “inherited” component (for immigrants and non-immigrants alike). Interestingly, having a low family income is rarely an obstacle to PSE for these youth.
But even after controlling for such factors as parental education and family income, immigrants still pursue PSE at much higher rates than non-immigrant Canadian youth. The most likely reason is that education is valued as the key to future success, and the family pulls together to help ensure their children take full advantage of the opportunities that Canada offers. It is all about motivation.

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