The University of California has long been a major source of socioeconomic mobility in California. Data from the University of California’s Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) indicates that more than half the undergraduate students in the UC system have at least one parent that is an immigrant. The ratio is even higher at UC Berkeley. What do such a high percentage of students with recent immigrant backgrounds tell us about the University of California and socioeconomic mobility? How is it influencing the academy and academic and civic experience of undergraduates who are largely first or second-generation immigrants?
Utilizing UCUES data on the University of California, and specifically the Berkeley campus as a case example, this brief provides an initial exploration of the dynamics of race and ethnicity, major, and the differing socioeconomic backgrounds of immigrant students, and in comparison to “native” students. Among the major conclusions offered in this study: there are a complex set of differences between various “generations” of immigrant students that fit earlier historical waves of immigrant groups to the United States; that the startling number and range of students from different ethnic, racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds points to the need for an expanded notion of diversity beyond older racial and ethnic paradigms; and while there are growing numbers of immigrant students at Berkeley from different parts of the world, and often from lower income families, there is a high correlation with their socioeconomic capital, described as a variety of factors, but most prominently the education level of their parents and family. Further, students at Berkeley who come from lower income families and have relatively low socioeconomic capital (in particular Chicano/Latinos) do well academically, if only marginally less so than those with higher rates of educational capital. At the same time, they also spend more time in paid employment, spend approximately the same amount of time as Euro-Americans studying and going to class, and have relatively high rates of overall satisfaction with their social and academic experience.