1 Introduction

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This article examines the group differences in university educational attainment in an increasingly diverse segment of Canada's population, namely, the children of immigrants. The diversity is expanding due to large shifts over the last four decades in source countries from which immigrants originate. Shifts in the source countries were spawned by the changes in the immigration regulations in the 1960s that removed barriers to allow newcomers from non- European countries, including Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. It is projected that by 2017, visible minorities will constitute 20% of Canada's total population (Statistics Canada 2005). Determining the group differences in educational attainment among the children of immigrants is vital for understanding why some groups achieve successful adaptation while some may lag behind other groups (Kao and Thompson 2003). The different pathways toward achieving university education among the second generation have important implications for their relative socioeconomic status in Canadian society.

Research pertaining to the group differences in academic achievement has mostly originated in the United States (Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Zhou and Xiong 2005; Portes, Fernández-Kelly and Haller 2005). These studies show substantial group differences in educational achievement that consistently point to better performance of some groups—for example, the Chinese, the Koreans (Zhou and Kim 2006), the South Asians (Xie and Goyette 2003) and the Cubans in Miami (Portes and MacLeod 1996)—while others exhibit signs of low achievement, such as Blacks (Duncan 1994), Mexican Americans (Rumberger and Larson 1998) and Laotians and Hmong (Miller 1995). The explanations for these group differences in the United States have been noted to include financial and human capital, family structure, community resources, cultural relations, as well as external factors such as racial stratification and economic opportunities (Zhou 1997).

Few Canadian studies have examined group differences in educational attainments (Sweetman and Dicks 1999, Reitz and Sklar 1997, Hou and Balakrishnan 1996). Studies on the second generation point to the success of this group as a whole, with educational attainments and occupational status similar to or exceeding the achievement of the third generation (Boyd 2002, Boyd and Grieco 1998). While these studies signal the potential for successful schooling adaptation, we do not know whether this also translates to group differences in university educational attainment. Since the population composition and education system in Canada are quite different from those of the United States, it is not clear whether some groups who are exemplars of successful adaptation there also exhibit the same mobility patterns in Canada, nor which ones display trends that are different from those observed in the United States.

Using large national representative survey data, we examine the extent to which the group inequality in university educational attainment is also observed in Canada and the saliency of structural and cultural factors that explain some of these differences. Our study is unique in that we provide a comprehensive analysis of group differences in university completion rates across a large range of immigrant source regions. We examine the extent to which parental human capital account for these differences in university completion rates.