Thursday, June 10, 2010

Refugees and Higher Education

Life flows along like a river. And after a year and a half of interacting with refugees, I'm beginning to see more and more of them settling in, adjusting to America and entering paths that look as if they are headed for a productive and fulfilling life where they will help not only themselves, but also their people, the members of their ethnic group, as well as our society and their new homeland.

It's not easy and, of course, there are many obstacles, but many refugees who come to the United States seek an education. In fact, some, when asked directly as to why they chose to leave the refugee camps in Thailand or elsewhere, say the primary reason they chose to come here was to seek an education.

Which begs the question, how does a refugee get into college?

Speaking in general terms, as persons with a United States refugee visa are legal residents of the United States, they are entitled to use the programs intended for legal residents of the United States, including those aimed at educational assistance. For you conservatives out there, lest you ask "What do we taxpayers get out of this?" if all works out well, then we will eventually get a productive, educated, skilled member of society who will pay taxes at a higher rate and be less prone to such expensive use of tax dollars as jail or public assistance. Therefore, in theory at least, educational assistance to refugees should be a "win-win" situation for all concerned.

In fact, when I've taken refugees to the local community college for assistance with admission, the big question has often been not about their citizenship or green card status but how long they have been residents of either New York State and/or the county which hosts the community college. Residents of a county, in other words people who have lived there for six months or longer, be they refugee or native born, pay at a lower rate.

For many purposes, refugees count sort of as half foreign and half American and interestingly, when it comes to education at some institutions, they often seem to get the best halves of each. In other words, many community colleges have an international student office that assists international students, and often this office will assist refugees as well. (International students can bring in surprising amounts of money to a college, including a community college.) On the other hand, if they meet residency requirements, refugees are often eligible for loans and other forms of aid as in-state residents. (And why not? They are residents. They do hold jobs, pay taxes or else receive public assistance.)

One obstacle to this is the basic requirement of a high school degree or equivalent (G.E.D.) and/or minimal requirements for English as well as basic study skills. I'll try to write more on this later.

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