Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Investing in a Dream

This week's blog post -
Link to Spanish version on HuffPost Voces Latino:


Investing in a Dream

Terri E. Givens 

Immigrant advocates often focus on the economic benefits that immigrants provide, but as a university professor, I get to experience the hopes and dreams of my students, many of whom are from or have ties to other countries, mostly from Mexico.  I never cease to be amazed by the diversity I see in my classrooms, which vary from 65 to 350 students.  I often tell my students that this is what America is all about, that students from all types of backgrounds can come to a place like the University of Texas at Austin and get a great education.
Our university accepts undocumented students for admission, and if they provide evidence that they have resided in Texas for at least three years and graduated from a high school in the state, they can qualify for in-state tuition. If they are in the top 8% of their graduating class, they are guaranteed admission to the University of Texas.  Many of these students also qualify for state grants and financial aid, although they are not eligible for federal financial aid.  In any case, in many ways we are subsidizing the educations of these students, who clearly are high achievers to make it into the Texas university systems.
The disconnect comes when they are working their way through college, and realize the limitations they will face, even if they are successful and complete their degrees. For example,  I often encourage students in my classes to consider studying abroad.  It can be a great experience for students who want to learn about other countries in an up-close and personal manner, learn a new language and broaden their horizons.  I tell them about how my first trip abroad to France changed my view of the world, particularly seeing the Normandy beaches and the military cemeteries from WWII.  It made me realize that for most Europeans WWII is still very much a part of their lives, not ancient history. 
After telling this story in one of my classes, a young woman approached me and told me how inspired she was by my experience.  She wanted to study abroad, but there was a complication – she was undocumented.  I told her that it would be impossible for her to study abroad under the circumstances.  We both felt disappointed.  I felt that here was someone who had benefitted from public education in Texas since she was a small child, felt that she was American, yet couldn’t take advantage of all that a university education could offer.
I certainly would never ask a student’s status, but since I teach a class on the politics of immigration, I often have students who come to talk to me about their particular situation. Many of the students I have met over the years find themselves with few options to do internships, work or pursue many of the opportunities that their fellow students take for granted, because of their lack of documents.  What we end up with is wasted potential.  A story in the Texas Tribune talks about a student with a degree in biomedical science that went on to work in a restaurant because he couldn’t provide employers the proper documents to get a job in his field.  This is in a country where employers complain that we don’t have enough high-skilled workers and that we must import workers from other countries.  We shouldn’t ignore the talent we have here – I want the tax dollars that I have invested in this state’s education system to pay off for all students. 

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