Among my colleagues at the University of Georgia is a small but hardy band of altruists who can’t stand the idea that young people are being denied the opportunity to get a college degree for the dumbest of reasons. So, according to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, those energetic faculty members formed a secret school, Freedom University; it offers instruction to undocumented young people who are legally barred from attending several of the best schools in the state they call home.
Like a handful of other states, Georgia has cracked down on undocumented immigrants who want to get a college degree. Not only are they barred from top colleges like UGA, but they are also required to pay the much higher out-of-state tuition rates at any state school that might accept them. Given the spiraling costs of college, that’s a hurdle most illegal immigrants can’t overcome. (Alabama and South Carolina go further, barring them from public colleges, period.)
Freedom’s instructors have worked hard to find their students places at colleges that will accept them — offering, among other things, SAT prep and help with college entrance essays. Some of the students have already enrolled at top schools such as Syracuse University, according to the Chronicle.
I wholeheartedly applaud those efforts, but they shouldn’t be necessary. Given the structural deficits in the nation’s economy, few pieces of public policy are dumber than those that restrict college opportunities for promising young people. In January, the new Congress should immediately take up comprehensive immigration reform.
The students at Freedom University are representative of a cohort of undocumented young adults who are Americans in every way but one — legal papers. They speak English; they listen to Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift; they watch not only soccer but also college football. They’ve spent most of their lives in this country and share the aspirations of their friends born on this soil. We ought to be eager to hand them the full rights — and responsibilities — of citizenship.
They are assets to this country. Experts have long noted that the American economy needs more highly skilled workers — people with degrees beyond high school. Since the United States can’t compete with countries such as Bangladesh that specialize in low-skilled and low-paid labor, our future growth depends on expanding our skills. It’s self-defeating to erect barriers in front of young people who could become highly educated workers.