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Education

Christine Lynch teaches her granddaughter Christine Gumper to crochet, Astoria, Queens, 1947. 

Public schools began in the 19th century as a means to provide general education for all, but they also tried to inculcate American values in immigrants and their children.  In response, many immigrant groups formed parochial schools to provide an education that would maintain their culture and religion.  In New York City in the 1850’s, Catholic Archbishop John Hughes argued that the public schools were engaging in Protestant indoctrination. To prevent this, he successfully developed a network of parochial schools.

City College Students studying in a library, c. 1900.

Despite the belief that the path to upward mobility for immigrants lay in education, most immigrants in the 19th and first half of the 20th century did not graduate or even attend high school, since many children entered the work force to support their families. In 1910, only 10 percent of Italian, Polish and Slovak children in Chicago and Cleveland attended school beyond the sixth grade.School attendance increased as child labor declined in the early 20th century, due to legislation restricting it and changes in the national economy. College education, however, was a rarity for immigrants then and it was much more likely that their children and grandchildren in the post-World War II era would be the first in their families to attend college.

Children at St. Gregory the Great school in Brooklyn at a birthday celebration, 2003.  The children's parents from left to right are from Guatemala and Haiti, Grenada and Guyana, and Guyana.

Immigrants who have arrived since the mid-1960’s face challenges in achieving their educational goals, but high school graduation rates have risen over time. Among Latino immigrants, the high school graduation rate rose from 18 to 41% between 1970 and 2000, with higher rates for the children who arrive in the U.S. before age of 11.




Seated with his family is a Liberian immigrant, who escaped the civil war in his country. He graduated from the Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Secondary School in June 2006.

In New York City, The City University of New York has been the key institution in providing higher education opportunities to immigrants and their children. While well-known for its Nobel Laureates and other distinguished alumni, CUNY today educates over 450,000 students, creating pathways to the middle class for the city’s immigrant and working class populations.