The im­mig­rants who have re­cently come to the United States are the most highly edu­cated in his­tory. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter ana­lys­is of U.S. Census Bur­eau data shows that 41 per­cent of im­mig­rants ar­riv­ing in the past five years had com­pleted at least a bach­el­or’s de­gree. By com­par­is­on, only 20 per­cent of newly ar­rived im­mig­rants in 1970 were sim­il­arly edu­cated.

Edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment has also ris­en over the past 50 years for adults born in the U.S. For ex­ample, in 2013, 3 in 10 U.S.-born adults had com­pleted at least a bach­el­or’s de­gree, triple the share of U.S.-born adults that had done the same in 1970.

But newly ar­rived im­mig­rants re­main more likely than the U.S. born to have earned a de­gree, and that gap is now at its biggest since 1970. In that year, new ar­rivals had an ad­vant­age of 9 per­cent­age points over U.S.-born adults in the share com­plet­ing a bach­el­or’s de­gree (20 per­cent versus 11 per­cent). That ad­vant­age nar­rowed to 6 points in 1990. But the ad­vant­age in col­lege com­ple­tion held by re­cently ar­rived im­mig­rants has since widened, to about 12 points as of 2013 (41 per­cent versus 30 per­cent).

On the oth­er end of the edu­ca­tion spec­trum, al­most a quarter (23 per­cent) of today’s new ar­rivals have not com­pleted high school. Even so, it’s an im­prove­ment over 1970, when half of newly ar­rived im­mig­rants had not fin­ished high school.

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Adapt or Resist?

How the GOP should respond to a rapidly changing country has become the central issue in the volatile Republican presidential race.

The gap in high school com­ple­tion between im­mig­rant ar­rivals and U.S.-born adults widened un­til about 2000, but it has since nar­rowed. About 65 per­cent of those im­mig­rants ar­riv­ing with­in five years of 2000 had at least fin­ished high school. That com­pares with 83 per­cent of U.S.-born adults in 2000 who had fin­ished high school—a gap of about 18 points. But as of 2013, the gap has nar­rowed to 13 points.

The im­proved edu­ca­tion­al pro­file of re­cent ar­rivals that has quickened in the new cen­tury is likely due to sev­er­al factors. First, im­mig­rant ar­rivals from Asia—now the re­gion send­ing the most new im­mig­rants to the U.S.—tend to be very well edu­cated, with some 57 per­cent of them hold­ing at least a bach­el­or’s de­gree in 2013.

Im­mig­rant ar­rivals from Cent­ral and South Amer­ica tend to be less edu­cated. But the num­ber of im­mig­rants com­ing from those re­gions has sharply de­clined from 2000 to 2013, while the num­ber of im­mig­rants from Asia has been on the rise.