The Baton Rouge metro area has more immigrants who are college educated than foreign-born residents without high school diplomas, according to a Brookings Institution report released Thursday.
The report, “The Geography of Immigrant Skills: Educational Profiles of Metropolitan Areas,” looks at the education and skill levels of working-age immigrants in the 100 largest metro areas in the nation using 2009 U.S. Census data.
Working age is defined as immigrants between the ages of 25 and 64.
Each of the 100 metropolitan areas in the report are assigned to one of three categories according to their immigrant skill ratios: low skill, balanced skill or high-skill destination.
According to the report, low-skilled immigrants are defined as those lacking a high school diploma. High-skilled immigrants are those with one or more college degrees.
The balanced-skill designation for an area demonstrates an approximate equal of high-skilled and low-skilled workers.
According to the report, the nine-parish Baton Rouge metro area is a high-skill destination.
A high-skill destination has immigrant skill ratios of 125 or more, meaning 125 high-skilled immigrants for every 100 low-skilled immigrants.
The Baton Rouge metro area has a skill ratio of 127.
According to the report, 44 of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, including Baton Rouge, are high-skilled immigrant destinations, in which college-educated immigrants outnumber immigrants without high school diplomas by at least 25 percent.
According to conclusions in the report, the share of working-age immigrants in the United States who have a bachelor’s degree has risen considerably since 1980, and now exceeds those without a high school diploma.
The report’s findings about the Baton Rouge metro area are not surprising because LSU and Southern University attract foreign-born college professors and students seeking graduate degrees, said Troy Blanchard, an LSU sociology professor and demographer.
“This is being driven in large part to LSU. Education attracts immigrants,” Blanchard said.
LSU was the attraction for Arend Van Gemmert when he moved from Arizona to Baton Rouge three years ago.
Van Gemmert, 43, was born in The Netherlands but teaches at LSU as an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Kinesiology.
Before moving to Baton Rouge to work at LSU, Van Gemmert worked as a researcher and teacher at Arizona State University for 12 years.
He became a U.S. citizen four years ago.
“The report’s findings make sense to me. LSU is why I came here and I have two graduate students working for me that are foreign born,” Van Gemmert said.
According to the report, “metropolitan areas centered around large college towns have highly skilled immigrant populations in part because they draw students from abroad, many of whom stay in the United States for extended periods of time.”
Van Gemmert said more immigrants with college degrees in the area is good for Louisiana.
“The more high-skilled people you have, you usually make more money. And that gives the state a better tax base,” Van Gemmert said.
Both Van Gemmert and Blanchard said it also makes sense that the petrochemical industry in metro Baton Rouge would attract highly educated foreign-born workers.
“You have to have more degrees than thermometers to work in this industry,” said Dan Borné, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association.
Borné said the oil companies and plants in the area have international profiles and the petrochemical industry in and around Baton Rouge routinely transfers international workers to the area.
“Just last week one of the companies here transferred a Chinese engineer with his family and we were trying to help connect him with the Chinese community here and a Chinese doctor,” Borne said.
The New Orleans metro area, according to the report, is a balanced-skill area.