Harvey Krahn and Alison Taylor, University of Alberta
The educational aspirations of 15-year-old Canadians are very high, while those of visible minority immigrant (VMI) youth1 are even higher. Our research uses data2 from the 2000 Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), for which over 26,000 teenagers across Canada were interviewed. Our research indicates that 79% of VMI youth hoped to attain at least one university degree compared with 57% of their Canadian-born non-visible minority (NVM) counterparts.
Other research has shown that language and cultural barriers can stand in the way of immigrant students, and it is possible that such barriers could dampen their aspirations. So we were surprised by how high the aspirations of young VMI youth were. To explain these findings, we examined several socio-demographic factors such as parents’ education and family income. For example, the data suggest that 35% of VMI teenagers came from households where at least one parent had a university degree compared with 21% of Canadian-born NVM students. However, a much higher percentage of VMI students (59% compared to 46% of Canadian born NVM youth) lived in households with a total annual income of less than $60,000.
Yet the “visible minority immigrant” effect was apparent, regardless of the education or income level of parents. In fact, among families where neither parent had a university degree, 75% of VMI students aspired to a university education compared with only 51% of Canadian-born NVM students. Similarly, three-quarters of VMI youth in families with household incomes below $30,000 aspired to a university education compared with less than half of Canadian-born NVM youth in similar circumstances.
We then considered other socio-demographic factors such as family structure, gender, first language, community size, and region. In addition, we looked at parents’ aspirations for the child, and indices of parents’ school involvement, parents’ supervision of their teenager, students’ school engagement, and their friends’ school engagement. Examining the net effects of the range of other predictor variables, it appears that parents’ aspirations for their child, parents’ education, and overall grades have very strong positive effects on university aspirations (all with predicted probabilities of 69% or higher). Students’ school engagement, friends’ school engagement, university preparation courses and household income have moderately strong effects (predicted probabilities of 62% to 66%). In contrast, family structure, language first learned, parents’ school involvement, and parents’ supervision of their teenager had little effect on the post-secondary aspirations of Canadian 15-year-olds.
In sum, we found that a consistent visible minority immigrant effect is observed even after accounting for a variety of socio-demographic and school performance variables. Further, disadvantages related to community size, parents’ education, household income, and grades appear to have less of a dampening effect on the educational aspirations of VMI than those of Canadian-born NVM youth.
Our analysis shows that higher parental education and aspirations for their children, and higher grades and school engagement of VMI youth explain a substantial amount, but certainly not all, of the VMI effect on university aspirations. We are now exploring this effect further through qualitative research that focuses on the influence of family and school dynamics on the educational aspirations and attainment these youth. For example, do the educational values promoted within visible minority immigrant families assist them in dealing with some of the barriers they might face within the education system? Do visible minority youth encounter barriers in the secondary and post-secondary systems that dampen these high educational goals?
This research is important for schools since educators working with immigrant youth may, at first glance, see youth who have language difficulties. While it is important to recognize possible barriers, we need to also recognize their unusually high aspirations and make sure they have every opportunity to reach their goals.
Harvey Krahn is a professor of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Alison Taylor is a professor of Educational Policy Studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com.
1The category ‘VMI youth’ includes those who are first and second generation immigrants. We use this category because the Youth in Transition Survey data could not be broken down into finer categories and because the majority of both first- and second-generation immigrant youth were members of a visible minority group (66% and 52%, respectively). VMI youth comprised 12% of YITS participants while 75% were Canadian-born white students.
2The analysis for this study was conducted at the University of Alberta Research Data Centre. The Research Data Centre program is part of an initiative by Statistics Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and university consortia to strengthen Canada's social research capacity.