Education And Economics: A Report From The Border

Throughout 2016, a wall of rhetoric has obscured fundamental truths about U.S. relations with Mexico. As the year winds down, I offer this dispatch from Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson, Arizona, about 65 miles from the border. Consider it an attempt to provide facts and on-the-ground observations regarding the importance of continued Arizona-Mexico economic and educational development.

Let's begin with economics. Mexico is by far Arizona's largest international trading partner. The state exports more to Mexico than to the next 10 countries combined. In 2015, the state exported $9.16 billion in goods to according the University of Arizona's Eller College of Business; in contrast, Canada, the state's No. 2 trade partner, received $2.3 billion.

If you visit any mall in Tucson during the ongoing holiday season you will hear multiple tongues speaking the universal language of retail commerce. As they have for years, members of Mexico's growing middle class cross the border in December to contribute millions of dollars in purchases and sales tax to the city and state economies. The reality is that tens of thousands of jobs in our state depend on a strong U.S.-Mexico relationship. PCC's cross-border connections can only improve our position as an economic development engine for the region.

That the middle class in Mexico is burgeoning is inextricably connected to the prioritization of higher education by Mexican leaders at all levels of society. It behooves the College to be a willing and capable partner in this endeavor, which enriches both societies in multiple ways. For example, late last month Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, presented PCC with an $80,000 award to fund scholarships for immigrants and Americans of Mexican origin.

The support for PCC comes from the Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME), which is part of Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Relations. This is the third grant PCC has received from IME since November 2014, bringing the total for scholarships to $260,000. As Ambassador Sada stated while praising community colleges for preparing students for transfer or employment, "There is no greater legacy than education."

The connection between employment and education was particularly evident when I was part of a delegation from Tucson, led by Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, to meet with education and economic leaders in Mexico, including former Mexico President Vicente Fox.

Since leaving office, President Fox has headed a foundation, Centro Fox, which is committed to furthering education, entrepreneurship and leadership. President Fox agreed to partner with Tucson, and as part of the collaboration, he asked the College to work with him to institute a two-year college credentialing system in Guanajuato, Mexico, similar to a community college system. As we at PCC well know, community colleges are a crucial piece to furthering the educational and career aspirations of those who cannot afford university tuition. We look forward to deepening our connection with Centro Fox in 2017.

Underlying these initiatives is a constant emphasis on diversity, inclusiveness and equity that becomes more poignant with each day, it seems. Our recent reaffirmation of our commitment to DREAMers and DACA students connects to the importance we place on providing a welcoming atmosphere for all students, whatever their nation of origin, as well as creating a place for the open exchange of ideas.

Those are among our core values. They did not change in 2016, and won't change in 2017, despite the many uncertainties the year is likely to bring. Pima Community College remains committed to expanding and enhancing our growing relationship with Mexico. It makes good sense for the economic, academic and cultural vitality of both of our communities.