Why Should We Invest in New Americans?

Whether you see it as a rhetorical or pointed question, I believe there is an inherent question that seeps into every aspect of the real world in which we live, especially when talking about current world events. Whether it is in the discussion of educational, social, political or economic aspects of our communities, cities, states and nation, that question is "Why should we invest in New Americans?"

Whether someone is an immigrant, refugee or asylee, we need to invest in New Americans in every way possible, not only because I believe it is the right thing to do, but it's a smart thing to do. The simple reality is that New Americans come to the United States daily, and we all need to be proactively involved. Many of the needs and subsequent success of New Americans acclimating to their new life in the United States, hinge on access to education, not only for young children, but of course, affordable education for adults that leads to employment and a livable wage. As president of a public community college it is my job to be an advocate for higher education, and particularly the benefits of 2-year colleges for career and transfer pathways.

But it is not just a job to me. It is my passion. My own journey compels me to be a champion for New Americans in our community, and an advocate for 2-year colleges. I came to the United States as a teenager from Iran, and I became a United States citizen as a young man. I attended community college in my early years as an immigrant. And today, I am president of a community college. As a successful immigrant, I am not an anomaly. I started out as a dishwasher in Oklahoma to get myself through school. I wasn't afraid of taking on menial jobs - and was grateful to be employed. I continued working wherever and whenever I could to support myself. New Americans have always worked hard and contributed greatly to America's success. We need to view New Americans as assets rather than as deficits or burdens.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce urges policy-makers to "view immigrants as human capital - providing Minnesota and the nation not only with workers at all skill levels, but also innovation, buying power, new businesses and better access to global networks." Here are some key statistics the Chamber provides under the heading Minnesota's Immigrant Communities: Critical to economic success: As workers, immigrants comprise 37.2% of lower-skilled workers and 8.5% of college-educated workers in Minnesota. As consumers, immigrant households have an estimated buying power of more than $5 billion on an annual basis. As Minnesota taxpayers, immigrants pay an estimated $793 million per year in state and local taxes. As entrepreneurs, an estimated 44,500 Minnesota businesses are immigrant-owned. (The Chamber's information comes from The Economic Contributions of Immigrants in Minnesota, a report researched and written by Bruce P. Corrie, professor of economics at Concordia University in St. Paul, and Sarah Radosevich, policy research analyst for the Minnesota Chamber.)

The sage advice in the executive summary of The Economic Contributions of Immigrants in Minnesota has an excellent answer to my initial question of Why should we invest in New Americans? Corrie and Radosevich state "Take a long-term perspective on the economic impact of immigrants: One-dimensional or short-term analyses are likely to understate the benefits. In the short run, immigrants may impose a cost; however, over two or more generations the sum of the evidence suggests that they bring a significant net benefit to Minnesota and the United States."

This is why we all need to get behind providing educational opportunity for New Americans. As an educational institution, Saint Paul College is committed to helping immigrants find their own success. We strive to be a part of the greater good. Our purpose is to help our students succeed, to challenge them in their growth as scholars and individuals, to embrace their individuality and to cheer them on in their life endeavors.

We're very proud to have Saint Paul College's partnership with the International Institute of Minnesota included as an example of an effective collaboration on designing and implementing robust transitional supports for promoting student success in the article Collaborating to Help New Americans Succeed in Community College: An Example from Minnesota (page 10 of the National Skills Coalition report Upskilling the New American Workforce: Demand-Driven Programs that Foster Immigrant Worker Success & Policies that Can Take Them to Scale).

We do not view and approach our educational practices and interactions from a mono-cultural lens. Walk through our hallways and you'll hear multiple languages spoken in casual conversations - whether it's student-to-student, employee-to-student, or employee-to-employee. The diversity is enlightening, encouraging and accepted in our inclusive environment. We are an open access campus to all in our community, all ages, all races, and all ethnicities. We are one of the most diverse colleges in Minnesota, with 61% students of color. That is the milieu of Saint Paul College. It isn't a happenstance, it's achieved through purposeful and mindful actions and promoting a culture of acceptance for all - whether a student is a New American or 5th generation American. After all, if we do not take care of our students and our community, who will?

Providing education for New Americans, whether immigrant or refugee, transforms lives and will have a long lasting effect. It is not just the lives of New Americans that are transformed. All of us are transformed as diversity and new energy are infused into our communities and enrich our lives. We all benefit socially by engaging with our new neighbors, new coworkers, and new students.

We must do whatever we can, in all parts of our lives to bring encouragement to each other to dream of a better and brighter future. As an educator, I see that real access to post-secondary education is one such avenue, particularly community colleges and our close connections to the community around us. New Americans enrich all of our lives, just as much as we enrich theirs.