Facts & Research


3 Strategies to Prevent Brain Waste Among Professional Immigrants

October 19, 2023

Have you ever heard of brain waste? It’s used to reference the phenomenon of underutilization of the skills and education of an internationally trained professional in a new country.

In the article “Strategies for Serving Internationally Trained Professionals in Adult Basic Education,” Mary Baxter from Georgia Piedmont Technical College points out that in the United States, 21% of immigrants with college degrees are unemployed or underemployed. Their foreign credentials and experience are often not recognized, leading educated individuals to adult education programs in pursuit of some sort of US credential, often high school equivalency.

“21% of immigrants with college degrees are unemployed or underemployed.”

But if we want to avoid the issue of brain waste among immigrants who may in fact already have secondary school diplomas, university degrees, and work experience from their home countries, adult education programs need to consider if there are better ways to serve these individuals.

In her Report from the Field, Baxter shares the following strategies that she has found effective as an instructional coordinator to assist internationally trained professionals (ITPs).

Identify eligible students

Often students with stronger English language skills show interest in pursuing college or career options. They also often inquire about high school equivalency, believing that is the next step to reach their goal.

Ask these students if they already have a secondary school diploma or post-secondary degree. If they do, they should instead consider credential evaluation.

Credential evaluation

Validating foreign education credentials can seem daunting, especially given that some people, refugees for instance, may be particularly hesitant of sharing personal information with an unknown company or may have left their home country without personal documents. However, taking a little time to gain an understanding of the process to help students results in meaningful outcomes.

Validating a person’s prior education is important to preventing brain waste. Not only will ITPs not be required to repeat schooling, but they can end up feeling validated as individuals with their previous education being recognized.

College programs

There is typically much interest among ITPs about entering college to continue their education or to pursue a new career. While credential evaluation will indicate if they are qualified, Baxter brings up that there are other programs that could help place ITPs in jobs for which they are qualified. At her program, for example, Career Plus was started for this purpose.

Read Baxter’s full Report from the Field to learn more about each of these strategies to better serve this unique population. The report is part of the new issue of our Adult Literacy Education research journal.

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