Soapbox

Despite immigration policy, higher ed leaders stand with Dreamers

Lexington Herald-Leader

Few things are more important to the future of California than increasing the number of college graduates.

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that we face a shortage of almost a million college-educated workers by 2025. As leaders of the three segments of public higher education in the capital region – UC Davis, Los Rios Community College District and California State University, Sacramento – we’re committed to working together to help build the educated 21st-century workforce that our state and region need.

To meet evolving economic needs, it’s critical that we continue to provide access to all students who can benefit from a college education and contribute to our state.

The California system of public higher education provides a model for the rest of the country in providing affordable, high-quality education to its residents. But to reach the goal of an additional million college-educated workers by 2025, we need to provide affordable access to nonresident students. In our global, digital economy, California cannot afford to waste a single mind and squander human capital.

The state of California committed to this goal with the passage of AB 540 in 2001. AB 540 allows nonresident students who meet certain criteria to attend our colleges and pay in-state tuition. Students who qualify may also receive crucial financial support through the California DREAM Act, including community college fee waivers, Cal Grants and state-administered financial aid.

There are countless local examples of the positive impact the California DREAM Act has had on our students. Students like Norma Mendoza, who arrived in San Jose as a toddler and knew at an early age that an education was her ticket to a better life. She made her way through Sacramento City College, transferred to Sacramento State in 2013, and graduated in two years. Norma now serves as the vice president of the Latino Alumni Chapter of Sacramento State and is pursuing a graduate degree in public policy and administration.

Or Carol’s Belsai Montes, a medical student at UC Davis who emigrated from Honduras to the United States when she was 3 years old. Carol’s has been an advocate for health and education equality for undocumented people for more than 12 years. She credits DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) with opening doors for herself and others to pursue a career in public service through medicine.

At the national level, we know that immigration is a controversial topic. Regardless of any changes in national policy, the California DREAM Act will continue to provide access and increase the number of students earning the credential or degree necessary in today’s economy.

Many students who have enrolled under the California DREAM Act are undocumented students who have also legally applied for administrative relief at the national level through DACA. That status doesn’t lead to permanent citizenship but does protect young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were children and who meet specific criteria.

Though the California DREAM Act remains in force, the potential end to DACA is a source of grave concern to hundreds of college students in the capital region. As educational leaders, we don’t pretend to know the future of immigration reform in the U.S. What we do know is that the success of DREAMers is vital to the future of California. In a very real sense, they are the future of California.

College campuses have historically been places for robust, open discussions about the impact of political and policy decisions on the lives of our students. The faculty, staff and administration of our organizations are fully committed to the success of our students. We will continue to stand with all of our students.

Brian King is chancellor of Los Rios Community College District (chancellor@losrios.edu). Ralph Hexter is acting chancellor of UC Davis (chancellor@ucdavis.edu). Robert Nelsen is president of California State University, Sacramento (nelsen@csus.edu).

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