The Higher Dropout Rate of Foreign-born Teens

  • November 15, 2005

Foreign-born youths are significant contributors to the nation's teen school dropout population. Only 8 percent of the nation's teens are foreign born, but nearly 25 percent of teen school dropouts were born outside the United States, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

Many of these foreign-born school dropouts–nearly 40 percent–are recent arrivals to this country who were already behind in school before they left for the United States. In absolute numbers, recently arrived foreign-born teens who had difficulties in school before migration are a relatively small phenomenon–they make up just 6 percent of all foreign-born youths–but they are at high risk of dropping out once they arrive. (A youth is categorized as a dropout if he or she is not currently enrolled in school and has not completed a high school education. This includes those who have never enrolled in school in the United States.)

The impact of schooling difficulties before migration on school enrollment in the U.S. applies widely to youths from all countries of origin. For example, recently arrived teens from China who made adequate progress in school before migrating have a school dropout rate of less than 4 percent. But recent arrivals from China who did not make adequate school progress in China have a dropout rate greater than 30 percent.