Credentials for the Future: Mapping the Potential for Immigrant-Origin Adults in the United States

This report analyzes data on the postsecondary degree and non-degree credential attainment of first- and second-generation adults (ages 16 to 64) to explore the relationship between these credentials and adults’ economic outcomes.

Jeanne Batalova
Michael Fix
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Migration Policy Institute
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This report explores the relevance of post-secondary degree and non-degree credential attainment of first- and second-generation adults (ages 16 to 64) to earnings and economic outcomes. Credentials for the Future: Mapping the Potential for Immigrant-Origin Adults in the United States explores this topic in response to the aging population and the increased labor market demand for a workforce with higher levels of education and skills, given that the growth of the immigrant-origin adult population is outpacing the growth of third/higher generations.

The report uses data from the 2017 Current Population Survey and the 2016 American Community Survey to explore the relationship between credential attainment, or lack thereof, and economic outcomes.  The authors analyze data on the immigrant-origin adults who lack postsecondary credentials and who are not enrolled in high school. Also considered is the relationship between immigration status, English proficiency, and degree attainment.

The report findings identify the relationship between credentials and labor-force participation, credentials and earnings, and the role of gender.  Regardless, credentialing is strongly associated with increased employment and wages. The report also provides policy and programming recommendations, such as providing on-ramps, supports, and return to training options for first-generation immigrants. Additionally, there are implications for foreign-trained professionals in the discussion for streamlining credential and licensing requirements.  The authors write, “As the immigrant-origin population continues to grow in size and labor-market importance, the success of these initiatives in supporting immigrants and their children will have wide-reaching impacts on employers, institutions of higher learning, nongovernmental organizations, and U.S. and state economies (p. 4).” 

Among the key findings of this analysis are:

  • Immigrant-origin adults are a large and strategically important population for targeting efforts to boost credential attainment.
  • The majority of immigrant-origin adults without postsecondary credentials are racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Immigrant-origin adults account for at least 30 percent of adults without postsecondary credentials in 14 states.
  • Nondegree credentials provide positive labor-market returns.
  • Many first-generation immigrants face barriers to obtaining postsecondary credentials (p. 1).
Descriptive Research
What the experts say

Credentials for the Future-Mapping the Potential for Immigrant-Origin Adults in the Adults is an excellent resource for adult education programs because the immigrant population is growing rapidly and this population can and will have a dramatic effect on the labor force. Adult educators have diverse ideas about adult immigrants--their challenges, their strengths, and their relationships to U.S. education, labor, and society as a whole.  What they don't always have are facts to back up their ideas. This report provides those facts and clearly explains them in text and graphics giving educational and labor systems hard data and direction about how society might move forward to the benefit of all.

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