San Diego’s border region represents a frontier not just between countries, but one of opportunity. For students on both sides of the border with higher education on the horizon, one would think the cultural interface and borderland proximity would be an advantage, but geographic, economic and migrational factors make for educational obstacles in that area.

UC San Diego has partnered with universities in Tijuana to survey approximately 6,500 high school students in the cross-border region to better understand student engagement, aspirations and how the migration of young people between countries creates both risks and opportunities.

The lead takeaway? These students are most definitely binational.

From left, Mariana Barragan, Ana Barbara Mungaray, Melissa Floca, John Porten, Victoria Ojeda, Jose Luis Burgos and Maximino Matus. Photo by Erik Jepsen/ UC San Diego Publications.
From left, Mariana Barragan, Ana Barbara Mungaray, Melissa Floca, John Porten, Victoria Ojeda, Jose Luis Burgos and Maximino Matus. Photo by Erik Jepsen/ UC San Diego Publications.

Seventy-five percent of students in one subset say they have friends and family on both sides of the border and nearly 30 percent identify as both Mexican and American. What’s more, approximately 70 percent in this group can speak English and Spanish, giving them necessary cultural skills that will help them excel once they graduate and either enter the workforce or seek higher education.

“These students are especially well suited to participate in the binational economy because of their cross-border cultural fluency, and supporting their educational success should be a major regional workforce development priority,” says Melissa Floca, interim director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The survey also provides insight into the students’ professional trajectories and aspirations to live, study and work on both sides of the border. Yet while a whopping 93 percent say it is important to go to college, almost half—45 percent—think they might have to leave school before they want to because of financial considerations. Researchers believe this study has the potential to sway policymakers in California and Baja California to respond to the specific needs of the shared student population.

Complete findings will be released in the report “The Students We Share: A Cross-Border Workforce Development Priority,” supported by the University of California’s Mexico Initiative.

Floca and co-research lead Patricia Gandara of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project say the flow of young people back and forth across the border for schooling can derail those unable to adapt to pressures caused by migration. “We ought to be investing in these kids, rather than letting them fall through the cracks,” Gandara says.