Give Legal Immigrants Same Opportunities in Higher Education, Says Report

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by Shilpa Banerji

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy in a new report released on Wednesday has urged policymakers to give legal immigrants the same opportunities in higher education as other U.S. citizens.\

In “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants,” the report says the legal immigrant community faces federal, state, and institutional barriers in their attempt to enroll in and complete college. This may lead to negative consequences for the nation’s global competitiveness in the 21st century, adds the report.

Dr. Wendy Erisman, the lead author of the report, says the voice of the legal immigrant population has been lost in the debate over illegal immigrants in the country.

“They are an important part of the workforce, and we need to help them,” Erisman says. “America is the land of opportunity and a college education is part of that opportunity.”

According to the report, many immigrant college students are non-traditional students who have delayed entry into college after high school, or who attend college part-time, and who may have dependents of their own. Immigrant students have higher unmet financial needs than the average undergraduate and are more likely to enroll in community colleges or private, for-profit institutions.

The study recommends that legal permanent residents be eligible for all forms of state and federal financial aid which are currently limited to U.S. citizens only; increase the availability of English as a Second Language classes and develop programs for Latino immigrants; create more transparent financial aid and college application processes; and create policies that target the differing needs of various immigrant populations.

Immigrants to the United States are a diverse group. For example, in 2005, about 47 percent were Hispanic, 24 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 21 percent White non-Hispanic, and 8 percent Black. Legal immigrant college students are an “invisible community” that make up 12 percent of the total undergraduate population and is comparable in size to disabled and ethnic minority student groups.

IHEP president Jamie P. Merisotis says the study makes a case for the need to bring to the fore issues related to immigrants in the national dialogue about higher education.

“By 2020, there will be 14 million more skilled jobs that require at least some college education in the United States than people to fill them,” he says. “By investing now at the institutional and government policy levels to improve access and success for immigrants, we will see enormous economic and social benefits for the nation.”

Erisman adds that college preparedness depends a lot on the primary and secondary schooling of the region of origin of the immigrant. Many African and Asian immigrants already have high school diplomas and are proficient in English, whereas immigrants from Latin America may not be as qualified.

“The timing of immigration is also important,” Erisman says. “Teenagers move to this country at a crucial time and look at what kind of challenges they have to face.”

—      By Shilpa Banerji


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