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Postsecondary Enrollment of Language Minorities

Changes in English Language Use

The number of Americans speaking a language other than English at home has more than doubled since 1979. While there was no detectable change in the proportion of language minorities1 among those of traditional postsecondary school age (18- to 24-year-olds) between 1989 and 1992, the proportion began to increase after 1992 (figure 1). The percentage of these young adults speaking languages other than English increased from 15 percent in 1992 to 19 percent in 1999.

Figure 1. Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who spoke a language other than English at home: Selected years: 1979–1999


Percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who spoke a language other than English at home: Selected years: 1979-1999

SOURCE: Figure 4 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Language Minorities and Their Educational and Labor Market Indicators–Recent Trends, NCES 2004–009, by Steven Klein, Rosio Bugarin, Renee Beltranena, and Edith McArthur. Washington, DC: 2004.

Postsecondary Enrollment Status

Young adults who spoke English at home were more likely than those speaking other languages to be enrolled in a postsecondary institution in 1999 (37 percent vs. 28 percent) (table 1). However, there were no detectable differences between the enrollment of language minorities who spoke English very well and those speaking only English at home (38 percent and 37 percent, respectively). Among high school completers, there were no detectable differences between language minority 18- to 24- year-olds and those who spoke only English at home to be enrolled in college in 1999 (43 percent and 44 percent, respectively) (table 2). However, among high school completers, language minorities who spoke English very well were more likely than their counterparts who spoke English with difficulty to be enrolled in postsecondary education (49 percent vs. 29 percent). Furthermore, among high school completers, language minorities who spoke English very well were slightly more likely than those who spoke only English at home to be enrolled (49 percent vs. 44 percent).

As table 2 shows, the language that 18- to 24-year-old high school completers spoke at home may be associated with whether they were enrolled in postsecondary education in 1999. Specifically, among high school graduates, those who spoke an Asian language at home were more likely than those who spoke either Spanish or those who spoke only English at home to be enrolled in postsecondary education (65 percent vs. 35 and 44 percent, respectively). Even among those who spoke English with difficulty, Asians were more likely to be enrolled in postsecondary education than other language minority groups (64 percent compared with 17 percent of Spanish speakers and 42 percent of speakers of other non-European languages).2

Table 1. Number of 18- to 24-year olds, and of those, percentage and number enrolled in postsecondary institutions, by language characteristics and age group: 1999


  18- to 24-year olds 18-to 20-year-olds 21-to 24-year-olds
Language characteristics Total number (in thousands) Currently enrolled in post
secondary institutions (in thousands)
Percent currently enrolled Total number (in thousands) Currently enrolled in post
secondary institutions (in thousands)
Percent currently enrolled Total number (in thousands) Currently enrolled in post
secondary institutions (in thousands)
Percent currently enrolled
Total¹ 26,041 9,259 35.6 11,700 5,264 45.0 14,342 3,995 27.9
Spoke only English at home 21,128 7,869 37.2 9,639 4,546 47.2 11,488 3,323 28.9
Spoke other language at home 4,914 1,390 28.3 2,060 718 34.8 2,853 672 23.6
Spoke English "very well" 3,010 1,133 37.7 1,405 617 43.9 1,604 516 32.1
Spoke English with difficulty 1,904 257 13.5 655 100 15.3 1,249 157 12.5
Language spoken at home
Spanish 3,509 713 20.3 1,514 396 26.2 1,995 317 15.9
Asian 546 309 56.6 227 145 63.8 319 164 51.4
Other European 359 173 48.3 137 82 59.6 222 92 41.3
Other non-European 499 196 39.2 183 96 52.4 317 100 31.6
Spoke English "very well"
Language spoken at home
Spanish 2,010 618 30.8 967 336 34.7 1,043 283 27.1
Asian 417 237 56.7 190 121 63.4 227 116 51.0
Other European 245 133 54.3 116 77 65.8 129 57 44.0
Other non-European 337 145 43.0 132 84 63.9 205 61 29.6
Spoke English with difficulty
Language spoken at home
Spanish 1,500 94 6.3 548 60 11.0 952 34 3.6
Asian 128 72 56.2 36 24 65.9 92 48 52.5
Other European 114 40 35.2 21 5 24.5 93 35 37.6
Other non-European 162 51 31.3 51 11 22.5 112 39 35.2

¹ Includes 1,501 (in thousands) who were enrolled in grades 7–12.
NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: Table 12 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Language Minorities and Their Educational and Labor Market Indicators–Recent Trends, NCES 2004–009, by Steven Klein, Rosio Bugarin, Renee Beltranena, and Edith McArthur. Washington, DC: 2004.

Table 2. Number of 18- to 24-year olds who had completed high school, and percentage distribution according to postsecondary enrollment status, by language


  Enrollment status
Language characteristics Total number (in thousands) Percent enrolled in college (percent) Percent not enrolled in college (percent)
Total 21,179 43.5 56.5
Spoke only English at home 17,978 43.6 56.4
Spoke other language at home 3,200 43.1 56.9
 English-speaking ability
 Spoke English "very well" 2,304 48.7 51.3
 Spoke English with difficulty 897 28.7 71.3
 Language spoken at home
 Spanish 2,012 35.3 64.7
 Asian 468 64.7 35.3
 Other European 309 55.3 44.7
 Other non-European 412 47.5 52.5
 Spoke English "very well"
 Language spoken at home
 Spanish 1,451 42.4 57.6
 Asian 355 65.0 35.0
 Other European 207 63.0 37.0
 Other non-European 291 49.9 50.1
 Spoke English with difficulty
 Language spoken at home
 Spanish 561 16.8 83.2
 Asian 113 64.0 36.0
 Other European 101 39.5 60.5
 Other non-European 121 41.8 58.2

NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. High school completers include those who completed high school by means of an equivalency test such as the GED.
SOURCE: Table 13 in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Language Minorities and Their Educational and Labor Market Indicators–Recent Trends, NCES 2004–009, by Steven Klein, Rosio Bugarin, Renee Beltranena, and Edith McArthur. Washington, DC: 2004.


1 Language minorities are defined as individuals who speak a language other than English at home.

2 Please see Appendix C: Survey Methodology and Data Reliability of Language Minorities and Their Educational and Labor Market Indicators–Recent Trends for a discussion of issues of potential bias. Scroll down to Appendix C on page 63.

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