Back to school for Michigan high schoolers, 70K of whom are in immigrant families ⋆

It’s that time of year again — and not just when coffee shops are bringing back favorite fall flavors (some for the 20th year in a row!). Children and young people in Michigan have headed back to school, from first steps into the classroom all the way through the final day of senior year. 

Hundreds of thousands of students have returned to high school hallways in Michigan. Among them are 70,000 kids who come from immigrant families in which at least one parent was born in another country. That’s 15% of all high school students in our state. 

In fact, the percentage of high schoolers from immigrant families grows to 20% or more in six Michigan counties – Ingham, Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, Macomb and Kent – with Ingham and Wayne counties approaching 30% of all high schoolers being part of immigrant families. 

In addition, since immigrants live in all counties in Michigan, there are high school-aged kids in immigrant families in regions all across our state, even outside of larger cities and population centers. 

This data and more is available in a new release by the League and the Immigration Research Initiative, funded by Global Detroit, “High School Kids in Immigrant Families: A Call to Action for Michigan’s Higher Ed and Workforce Development Strategies.” 

This project offers data on students’ geography, race/ethnicity, English proficiency, income and parents’ education, with lessons for the state’s Sixty by 30 goal of having a labor force in which 60% of Michiganders have a skill certificate or college degree by 2030. 

To that end, the study highlights the increasingly important role that community colleges play in serving students from immigrant families or those who are immigrants themselves – a subgroup of students that comprises a rising share of college enrollment across the country. 

While 28 community colleges in Michigan serve immigrant families, six community college districts serve 75% of the state’s high school-aged kids in immigrant families (these are Oakland, Wayne, Grand Rapids, Macomb, Henry Ford and Lansing). Four of those districts are concentrated in Southeast Michigan.

Some of the other findings from the study include:

  • Among high school kids in immigrant families, 50% are Asian or Pacific Islander, Black or African American, or Latinx and over 40% are white. Many of these white high school-aged kids in immigrant families are likely Arab-American, but without a distinct race/ethnicity reporting category for the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) population, there is a lack of accurate race and ethnicity information.
  • Michigan high schoolers in immigrant families fare about as well as their U.S.-born counterparts economically. There are, however, differences across metropolitan areas in the state.
  • Only 10% of high-school aged children in immigrant families are considered limited English proficient (LEP) and speak English less than “very well.” The English language proficiency of most parents is also very high and most also speak another language. Still, a much larger percentage (46%) of immigrant parents are considered limited English proficient (LEP) and speak English less than “very well.” 
  • While comparable numbers of parents in immigrant and U.S.-born families have a bachelor’s degree and a significant number have an advanced degree, 22% of parents in immigrant families do not have a high school diploma, compared to just 5% in U.S.-born families. This is an important finding: often due to economic or social factors, parental education levels are a critical factor in a child’s level of educational attainment, particularly when it comes to completing college. 

High school-aged kids and young adults are a part of the future of Michigan and we must continue to invest in their success. Enacting inclusive policies that support immigrants and their children is one important strategy that will grow our state’s population and support all families who call Michigan home. 

In addition, paying closer attention to this group of young people will be key to achieving higher education, community college and workforce development goals like those defined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 60 by 30 initiative to have 60% of people earn a degree or skills certificate by 2030.



authored by Simon Marshall-Shah
First published at

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