After I graduated from Arlington High School, I realized that most of the students I started school with in the ELL program did not graduate. Many dropped out because they had to help their families here in the United States and other countries. Many would say, “Why should I graduate from high school if I can’t go to college?” Immigration status for many of us defined our opportunities.
Recently, I was talking about college access for immigrant youth at Inver Hills Community College. A young man who emigrated from Kenya as a child approached me. He had found out in his senior year of high school that he was undocumented and thought he could not go to college. He was about to finish two years of college while still in high school! He didn’t know where to go, so he never applied to college. There are many stories of youth like him and so few who make it through college.
In 2007, the toxicity of immigration politics had taken a toll on immigrant students and our families. Because of the negativity against immigrants, many lost hope. So a group of immigrant youth and a cross-country coach (Linea Palmisano) started NAVIGATE to make sure immigrant students knew their options for college in Minnesota.
Demographic trends calling us to act
Minnesota has long been recognized for its well-educated, high quality work force, but current trends threaten that reputation:
- The number of Minnesota jobs requiring some higher education is growing dramatically faster than jobs requiring only a high-school education.
- In the last decade, the number of high-school graduates in Minnesota decreased by 10.3 percent — significantly more than the national average of 4 percent.
- While the number of high-school graduates is projected to decline in coming years, the number of students of color graduating from high school — and immigrant students in particular — is increasing.
- According to a new set of Minnesota employment projections, there will be 885,600 total job openings this decade. The labor force is projected to grow by 186,000 over 10 years.
We cannot afford to lose the opportunity to tap into talent already in our state. That’s one reason the Citizens League supports efforts to allow students to pay in-state tuition rates, access state higher-education aid, and allow public universities to use private funding as financial aid for all students, regardless of immigration status.
Even if Congress acts, Minnesota needs to as well
Even with federal reform looking more likely, it will still likely be left to the states to decide to give in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented youth who are legalized through federal action. Even if federal reform includes federal financial aid for DREAMers (which is not likely), states will still need to pass legislation to allow some of their undocumented youth (including students who qualify for DACA/federal DREAM Act) to pay resident tuition and/or access state-based financial aid.
Minnesota should be at the forefront of exploring and developing mechanisms that allow immigrant students to access and finance higher education that will keep more students in school, allow them to graduate from high school or obtain their GED, and attend and finish college in Minnesota (and subsequently want to live and work in Minnesota).
According to a study on state-based Dream Acts around the nation:
- In-state tuition results in a 31 percent increase in non-citizen enrollment in institutes of higher education.
- In-state tuition is correlated with a 14 percent decrease in high-school dropouts among non-citizen Latinos.
- The beneﬁts associated with in-state tuition do not appear to come at a ﬁnancial cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
Pass the MN Dream Act II
By the time a student graduates from high school, Minnesota has already invested significant resources in his or her success. To prevent that student from pursuing higher education would be to squander our investment. Studies show that over the long term, immigrants generate more tax revenues than the costs of the public services they use. This impact is powerfully influenced by education level. Undocumented youth who go to college will add $329B to U.S. economy by 2030. The business community in Minnesota understands and supports reform.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s higher-education budget proposal included in-state tuition and access to state financial aid for Deferred Action qualifiers, and Rep. Gene Pelowski, House Higher Education Committee Chair, has introduced Dayton’s proposal.
Sen. Sandy Pappas and Rep. Carlos Mariani, along with 35 bipartisan co-authors, will introduce a separate bill that will go beyond Gov. Dayton’s proposal, to recognize undocumented youth as a Minnesota resident and eligible for state financial aid and in-state tuition if they:
- Have gone to a Minnesota high school for 3 years;
- Receive their diploma or equivalent;
- File an affidavit with the respective college/university saying they will apply to change their immigration status as soon as they are able.
Minnesota Statute 135A.011 explains that higher education investment is made in pursuit of the objective “to maintain access by providing an opportunity for all Minnesotans, regardless of personal circumstances, to participate in higher education.” These bills would give students more secure access to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) schools, private colleges/universities, and the University of Minnesota and make higher education a reality for thousands of students in Minnesota whom we really need as a state to stay competitive and attractive.
The Citizens League invites the public to attend a forum on immigrant students and higher education at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.
Juventino Meza is a program assistant at the Citizens League and founding member of NAVIGATE, a network of immigrant youth and allies seeking to widen the path to higher education for immigrant youth.
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