Aug 22, 2019

Fresno State’s stake in immigration reform

Our foreign-born students at Fresno State and other American universities have a lot at stake in the national debate about immigration reform. And so do the rest of us.

While American universities train many of the world’s brightest people, our immigration laws may ultimately send those people to other countries to compete against us.

This is particularly true in higher education’s effort to develop future generations of scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, thinkers and mathematicians to help the United States better compete in the global arena of innovation and technology.

Today, more than 1,200 leaders of colleges and universities across the nation are speaking out on the need for immigration reform that encourages foreign-born students to come to our campuses and participate in meeting the challenges of our nation’s bright future.

We are, after all, an immigrant nation — a harmonic union embracing multiple cultures — that rightly stands as a beacon of hope and accomplishment throughout the world.

There are few places across the United States where there is greater cultural diversity than the Valley region served by Fresno State.

We’re proud of our foreign-born students and optimistic that their success at Fresno State holds great promise for them as individuals and our nation as a whole.

To realize that promise, though, our country’s immigration policies must quickly adapt to 21st century demands for change so higher education can play its vital role in making those changes pay off for the United States.

In more than 50 years as a university student, educator, administrator or president, I have witnessed the profound benefits that students from elsewhere have on a campus.

Most young Americans — including those born elsewhere — are brought up to value the opportunity to achieve in college, and then put what they learn on campus into productive use.

Why should there be barriers to the success of any group of students?

And why shouldn’t foreign-born students who choose to be educated at Fresno State or another American university be able to convert their ingenuity and academic training into careers here?

Immigration regulations that discourage foreign-born students from attending college or threaten an uncertain future also deny opportunities for them to make friends, be exposed to new ways of thinking and discover things about themselves they might have left unexplored.

At the same time, everyone else on campus misses out on what foreign-born students add to any university experience.

Fresno State’s foreign-born students help our campus community learn more about diverse cultures and global perspective, cultivate respect and appreciation for difference, master collaboration and build a culture of acceptance on a global scale.

Our country is at a critical point. We’re recovering from an economic crisis; seeking more good-paying jobs; and trying to invest maximum academic and innovative human capital in our effort.

Fresno State can — and must — be part of the solution to our challenges at home and elsewhere.

Which brings me to a key reason for my advocacy of immigration reform: The nation’s desire — from industry and President Obama right through our entire educational system — to develop more bright minds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM for short).

Here are some facts:

1. We face a huge shortage of engineers and STEM workers today. Microsoft, for example, reports having thousands of engineering jobs it cannot fill, and it’s not alone.

2. By 2018, the United States faces a shortage of more than 230,000 advanced-degree STEM workers who can turn great ideas into businesses, jobs and trade.

3. Immigrants are twice as likely as American-born people to start a business in the U.S.

4. Every foreign-born graduate with an advanced degree from a U.S. university who stays and works in a STEM field creates on average 2.62 American jobs.

5. Immigrants were listed on more than three-quarters of patents granted in 2011 to America’s top 10 patent-producing universities.

6. Immigrants or children of an immigrant founded more than two of every five Fortune 500 companies.

To keep pace with innovation and new demand for STEM-trained workers, our country’s universities are seeking ways to expand enrollment in those areas. But barriers imposed by immigration policies also need to be updated to reflect contemporary reality and necessity.

Fresno State reaches out to the region’s K-12 public system with innovative programs that promote our STEM curricula and the career opportunities that follow to all students, not just immigrants.

We have, however, been particularly successful of late in bringing greater diversity — including immigrants — into our science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

We plan to build on our success across the board, but we recognize that until our immigration laws change, not all students will have equal opportunities to learn at Fresno State and then “pay it forward” by staying and working here, raising families and taking their places in our communities.



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