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Are Nigerian immigrants top of the class in the US?

The Organization for the Advancement of Nigerians claimed that Nigerians are the most educated immigrants in the US. We checked their claim.

This article is more than 6 years old

  • Nigerian immigrants feature consistently among the top according to US data

  • But least 7 other countries had higher educational attainment in 2016

  • In that year, at least 260,000 Nigerian immigrants had a bachelor's degree

US president Donald Trump is misinformed about Africans, said a group that claims to represent the interests of the Nigerian diaspora.  

The Organization for the Advancement of Nigerians, which gives its address as New York, was countering disparaging comments Trump allegedly made about African countries.

“Africans, and Nigerians in particular, are resilient, hard-working, and productive members of the society,” the group said in a statement.

It further reeled off a list of achievements by Nigerians in the US and noted: “According to the US Bureau of Statistics and Census, Nigerians are the most educated immigrants in the United States, and they have the highest education attainment rate,” it said.

Do Nigerians outpace all other immigrants in the US? We looked at the evidence.

Study of 5 sub-Saharan Africa & Caribbean groups

In December 2017, the US Census Bureau released a study on the characteristics of five sub-Saharan African and Caribbean groups.

These groups reported Ethiopian, Nigerian, Haitian, Jamaican and Trinidadian and Tobagonian ancestry. (Note: These are the largest sub-Saharan African and Caribbean ancestry groups in the US according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, with a total population of 150,000 or more each.)

Both immigrants and their descendants (those born in the US) were surveyed, Stella Ogunwole, a statistician and demographer at the bureau, told Africa Check.

One of the report’s areas of interest was the proportion that had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of the five groups, Nigerians had the highest educational attainment at 61.4%, followed by Ethiopians (27%), Trinidadians and Tobagonians (25.7%), Jamaicans (24.8%) and Haitians (19.2%).

“One of the most significant findings from the study was that twice as many of the people 25 years or older reporting Nigerian ancestry had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the US total population (29%) and [the] other selected ancestry groups,” Ogunwole said.

How Nigerians made their way to the United States

According to the US census bureau, Nigerian immigration to the US began in the 1920s, when Nigerians started attending American universities. This pattern largely held until the 1967-70 Nigerian civil war when many chose not to return, forming the first wave of Nigerian immigrants.

The Nigerian government sponsored thousands of students to study in the US during the 1970s. Other students were supported financially by their families, indicative of Nigeria’s prevailing economic prosperity and the high premium placed on education.

The subsequent economic downturn in Nigeria meant that many students were unable to return home after their studies. These students, as well as Nigerians who had the means to move to the US, formed the next wave of immigrants.

Nigeria ranked 8th in 2016

However, the study did not look at any other countries, said Ogunwole, who co-authored the report. For that data, she directed Africa Check to the American Community Survey.

The Organization for the Advancement of Nigerians’ claim referred specifically to Nigerians who had immigrated to the US and did not include people of Nigerian descent born in the US.

“At the census bureau, we generally refer to this population as the foreign born population,” Angela Buchanan, a demographic statistician at the US statistics agency, told Africa Check.

The latest estimates (2016) from the American Community Survey show Nigeria ranked eighth of the close to 80 countries for which the census bureau has immigrant data.

“In conclusion, I don’t think the claim that Nigerians are the most highly educated immigrant group is correct,” Buchanan said.

Conclusion: Nigerians not the most educated immigrants in the US

While faulting President Donald Trump for allegedly disparaging African countries, a diaspora group said that Nigerians had the highest educational attainment of all immigrants to the US.  

Available data from the US Census Bureau shows that while Nigerian immigrants feature consistently among the top, at least seven other countries had higher educational attainment in 2016.

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