Black Immigrants’ Use of an African American Strategy for Mobility Through Higher Education

Pam Bannett

Pamela R. Bennett, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Although contemporary immigrants may follow historical patterns of assimilation into the American mainstream, traditionally defined as the white middle class, segmented assimilation theory cautions that alternative destinations are possible. Given structural changes in the labor market, non-white racial status, and proximity to low-income minority communities, contemporary immigrants, according to some, face the possibility of downward assimilation or remaining tied to ethnic enclaves. Other scholars envision a fourth destination. Neckerman, Carter, and Lee (1999) consider the middle class of minority groups as a destination into which contemporary immigrants can assimilate by adopting a “minority culture of mobility” (MCM). This perspective has received relatively little attention. Critics charge that it lacks relevance to disadvantaged immigrants and lacks empirical support. I attempt to address these criticisms by (1) offering a complement to the MCM concept that is directly relevant to disadvantaged immigrants (“minority strategies for mobility”) and (2) empirically evaluating this concept with nationally-representative data. I conceptualize historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as an institutional component of an African American culture of mobility and their use as pathways into the middle class as an African American strategy for mobility. Using the Education Longitudinal Study, I investigate whether black immigrants utilize these colleges as pathways into the middle class, as so many African Americans have historically done.