June 20, 2018

Step Forward

Photo: ©2017 NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Used with permission.

One of the greatest honors of my presidency is the responsibility to speak out on behalf of the rights and the futures of students. I recently had the honor of presenting at the NAFSA 2018 Annual Conference and Expo, which brought together 9,000 international educators.

In the Presidents and Provosts Forum, I had the privilege to speak to college and university presidents about the work I have been doing to advance higher education and immigration policy reform through the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. 

I reflected on the past year and my experiences as I watched Hector A. Rivera Suarez ’18 — DACA recipient and then Guilford College Student Body President — reckon with his changing documentation status and the uncertainty of his future, rise beautifully to the calling to speak his truth and bravely tell his story on the steps of the United States Capitol. I also was able to take a moment to express the sincere honor and gratitude I felt to be able to stand beside him as we spoke to our North Carolina representatives in their Washington, D.C., offices.

Read more from Jane about Hector A. Rivera Suarez '18 and watch him speak on the steps of the Capitol.

There are many issues weighing on the higher-education landscape at this point in our nation’s history. I believe the relationship between our country’s institutions of higher learning and the immigrant, international and refugee populations is a paramount issue, one that — whatever road we take on it — will shape and steer the social, political and economic future of the United States. There are many misconceptions about the relationship between our international, DACA, documented, and undocumented college students and U.S. economic and social prosperity. I brought these data with me to NAFSA (along with others) to help begin to combat those myths.

  • Allowing the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients to remain in the United States would add $350 billion to the U.S. economy over the next decade.
  • The Cato Institute estimates that those Dreamers would also result in an additional $90 billion in federal tax revenue.
  • International students, rather than being a drain on the economy or a threat to U.S. intellectual property, added $37 billion to the economy for 2016-2017, supporting 450,000 jobs.
  • International students make up only 5 percent of annual college enrollment but are drivers of economic prosperity and innovation — representing one quarter of all U.S. startup leaders (worth $1 billion to the economy) and 40 percent of U.S. Nobel Prize winners.

Jane Fernandes presents at NAFSA 2018. Photo: ©2017 NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Used with permission.

But even greater a reason for protecting undocumented, immigrant and refugee students than the potential for positive economic and social impact is the calling to do what is right. Guilford College has a 181-year history of working toward diversity, equity and justice — nearly two centuries of marching on, step by step, toward the Light. 

The founding presidents of the Alliance believe as I do: As we raise our voices together on higher education and immigration policy, we can make a difference that ensures the opportunity for the pursuit of knowledge and happiness for our students. 

Read more about Jane and the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.

I say this with conviction when I assure you that Guilford College will remain a welcoming home for our international, refugee, DACA, and undocumented students — as we are committed to being a home for all students that walk through our halls. I stand proudly beside the other 367+ higher-education leaders already joined in the Alliance, and I call on the rest of our nation’s higher-education leaders to step forward with us.