From immigrants to citizens

To pass the U.S. citizenship test immigrants must answer questions confidently in English, says instructor Irene O’Brien at Community College of Aurora in Colorado. Students come from Ethiopia, Ukraine, Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico and elsewhere, reports the Aurora Sentinel.
Citizenship ClassStudents who take the naturalization test are asked 10 questions about the United States out of a list of 100. They must answer orally so they can be graded on their English skills as well as their knowledge.  They also take a brief reading and writing exam.

Possible questions include the number of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the names of the president, vice president and speaker of the House, and one author of the Federalist Papers.

About 91 percent of immigrants pass the citizenship test, according to USCIS. About a third of U.S. citizens would fail if they had to take the test, according to a Xavier University survey.

The immigrant students are motivated to earn citizenship and a U.S. passport.

“If you’re not the religion they want in my country, you have a hard time getting the job you want,” said Sondang Liberatore, a student who immigrated to Aurora from Indonesia in 2001.

“I want human right, for the freedom for my whole life,” said Nai Mon Htow, a refugee from Burma. “That’s why I come to the United States.”

California may send adult ed to college

California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to shift adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges, but the Legislature may not go alone, reports the Oakland Tribune.

The plan would give community colleges an additional $300 million to set up similar adult education programs, including high school diploma or equivalency courses, vocational education and citizenship classes. College leaders note the amount is less than half of what the state spent on adult schools five years ago, and that colleges have no experience running some of these programs.

“We’ve never been in the business of doing GED (the high school diploma equivalent), nor have we done anything with citizenship,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.

Under the governor’s proposal, school districts would continue to get the same funding, but could shift the money to other uses. In Oakland, which has a 27 percent dropout rate, the district plans to close its GED programs if it isn’t required to serve adult students.

. . .  the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office cites “major problems” with the plan and urges the Legislature to instead invest the money in a special fund for adult education, managed by K-12 school districts.

. . . For years, community colleges have also offered remedial courses, including English as a second language, but have generally targeted higher-skilled students, while adult schools — often in courses set up at a school or community center — have worked with school dropouts and recent immigrants and refugees, including those unable to read or write.

Proponents argue adult education students could move more easily to job training and college classes, if they started at community colleges.  Colleges could contract with existing adult ed programs rather than design their own classes.

Carnevale: Job training creates good citizens

Community colleges’ mix of job training and academic education creates good citizens, says Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in an interview with Community College Journal excerpted in Community College Times.

. . . ours is a society based on work. Those who are not equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied the genuine social inclusion that is the real test of full citizenship. Those denied the education required for good jobs tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity and economy. . . . If community college educators cannot fulfill their economic mission to help youths and adults become successful workers, they also will fail in their cultural and political missions to create good neighbors, good citizens and self-possessed individuals who can live fully in their time.

Almost a third of new job openings between 2010 and 2020 will require middle skills — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree — Carnevale predicts. Some of these jobs pay middle-class wages: 62 percent of middle-skill jobs pay $35,000 or more per year, his research has found. Thirty-one percent of entry-level associate-degree jobs and 27 percent of jobs requiring licensure or certification pay more than entry-level BA positions.

“Before the 1980s, employers provided entry-level training to the vast majority of middle-skill workers, largely in blue-collar occupations,” Carnevale says. Now community colleges help young people “get through the door to jobs that pay.”

There is a “missing middle” between high school and four-year college, says Carnevale.

Perhaps because employers did the entry-level training for so long in the United States, the American education system has been built around the four-year bachelor’s degree. For institutional and cultural reasons, the “college is a BA” mantra continues. Students march in lockstep into four-year institutions, many without any clue of how they will attach to the labor market at the end of their four to six years. This blind homage paid to the prestigious BA job is largely responsible for the difficulty in recruiting and training workers, along with the lack of information about how viable and upwardly mobile middle-skill jobs can be.

In spite of high unemployment, “2 million jobs persistently go unfilled for want of skilled workers,” says Carnevale.


Amnesty doesn’t require college, military service

President Obama’s quasi-amnesty for young illegal immigrants doesn’t require college attendance or military service, according to Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano’s memo. Applicants who came illegally by age 16 and are 30 or younger must pass a background check showing no felonies or multiple misdemeanors. In addition, the applicant must be: “currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of  the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the  United States.” Those who qualify will be able to get two-year work permits renewable indefinitely.

“In school” seems to refer to high school. Would dropouts qualify if they enroll in GED or basic skills classes at a community college?  Do they have to pass their classes?

The military provision is a bit puzzling: Illegal immigrants aren’t eligible to serve in the military. However, a few use fraudulent papers to enlist. The order doesn’t say whether those who qualify for temporary work permits will be allowed to serve in the military. If so, would their service qualify them for citizenship?  I can’t imagine denying citizenship to military veterans.

In May, speaking at the commencement of Miami Dade College‘s commencement ceremonies, President Obama reaffirmed his support for the Dream Act, which provides a path to citizenship for young immigrants who complete two years of college or serve in the military in the six years after qualifying for conditional legal status. The executive order doesn’t promise citizenship.

Obama issues ‘Dream’ order

Congress has refused to pass the Dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who enroll in college or serve in the military. But today President Obama ordered a halt to deportations for people under 30 who arrived illegally before the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. for five years. Immigrants must be high school graduates or GED holders with no criminal record, be enrolled in postsecondary education or serve in the military. (Presumably college graduates would be eligible.) Immigrants who qualify will be able to apply for work permits.

While young immigrants won’t get a path to legal status and citizenship, they’ll be able to apply for a two-year “deferred action” that removes the threat of deportation for up to two years, with repeated extensions. “This is not immunity, it is not amnesty,” said Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary. “It is an exercise of discretion.”

The order will cover about 800,000 people, the administration estimates. Counting children under 18 with undocumented status, it will affect up to 1.4 million immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. It could persuade young Latinos to stay in high school or, at least, to earn a GED. Since many immigrants enroll in community college — and those who are’t in school can easily do so — the order could lead to an enrollment surge at community colleges.

Republican pushes STARS instead of DREAM

Republican alternative to the DREAM Act creates a path to citizenship for children brought illegally to the U.S. — if they complete a bachelor’s degree. But the STARS (Studying Towards Adjusted Residency Status) Act, introduced by Florida Rep. David Rivera, doesn’t have broad Republican support.

(The bill) would grant alien conditional nonimmigrant status to those who have been in the U.S. at least five years at the time of the bill’s enactment, were brought to the U.S. younger than 16 years old, have earned a high school diploma or GED, have been admitted to an accredited four-year college, and are of “good moral character.”

Upon graduation, a student could apply for a five-year visa renewal, followed by applying for permanent residency and eventually citizenship.

Students who fail to graduate would lose their conditional status.

A separate Rivera bill, the ARMS (Adjusted Residency for Military Service) Act creates a path to citizenship through military service.

By contrast, the DREAM Act requires two years of college — graduation is not required — or two years of military service. That’s a much lower bar.

Most immigrant students who go to college start at a community college. Those who are undocumented aren’t eligible for state or federal aid. Few go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. Of course, STARS might motivate more students to seek a four-year degree, but it ignores other productive paths. Military service would provide another option, but not everyone is healthy enough to serve.

Educating citizens, not just workers

Pressured to prepare graduates for the workforce, America’s higher education system must not forget its civic and democratic mission, asserts A Crucible Moment, a report released today by U.S. Department of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Too few graduates are prepared to be active citizens of a democracy, writes Carol Geary Schneider, president of the AAC&U, in a guest post on College Inc.

American colleges and universities—and yes, our community colleges too—were created first and foremost to ensure the future of our democracy.

Concerned about global competition, “many public leaders now are actively promoting witheringly reductive versions of college learning” that treat  “history, world cultures, anthropology, philosophy, literature and the other humanities” as an “unaffordable luxury,” Schneider writes.

. . . with short-term certificates, for-profit trade schools and pared-down degree programs now widely touted as models of admirable efficiency, we are far down the path toward creating a two-tiered system in which some students still get a horizon-expanding and civic-minded liberal education, while too many others receive narrow training that is palpably indifferent either to any responsibility for democracy or to the needs of a vibrant economy.

A national forum today, “For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims Its Civic Mission,” will push back against the focus on college as workforce preparation only.

College majors—including those that prepare students directly for jobs—need to play their own part in teaching students how their chosen fields intersect with a democratic society.

. . . Those preparing for careers in science, health, engineering, education, public service, business, accounting and the trades all need practical experience in examining the kind of public questions with which every field inevitably wrestles. Today’s students need—both for democracy and the economy—not just to analyze issues, but to work together with others from different backgrounds in finding achievable solutions to actively contested questions.

Miami Dade College, which educates more than 150,000 largely first-generation students, has made civic responsibility a degree requirement, Schneider writes. Some universities now require public service or projects that benefit the community.

A Crucible Moment calls for expanding campus-community partnerships, so students can tackle real problems in their communities.

“We do not have to jettison our commitment to civic learning in order to prepare students for success in the knowledge economy,” Schneider writes.

California dreaming

California’s Dream Act, which offers state aid to undocumented college students, passed the Legislature on Friday;  Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill.

High school graduates with three or more years in California could apply for Cal Grants, which pay for tuition, fees, books and living expenses for lower-income students.

Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, introduced the bill and said that it is necessary to ensure that California has an educated workforce in the future, including students who didn’t come to the country by their own choice but excelled in school.

“We will need them for our future, for our position in the global economy,” he said. “We don’t have one student to spare.”

Democrats passed the bill on a party-line vote.

The bill is expected to cost the state up to $40 million per year to fund grants to an estimated 34,000 community college students, 3,600 in the California State University system, and as many as 642 in the University of California system.

Once students earn degrees, they’ll be unable to work legally in the state, critics said. The federal Dream Act, which includes a path to citizenship through college attendance or military service, has failed repeatedly.

Dream deferred in 2011

The Dream Act’s defeat wasn’t just a disappointment for immigrants, who’d hoped to make college or military service a path to legalization, writes Paul Bradley on Community College Week.

The legislation long has been a top priority of the American Association of Community Colleges and its members. The colleges educate significant and growing numbers of those who would have benefited from the DREAM Act.

With a Republican majority in the House and anti-immigrant sentiment growing, it’s not likely the Dream Act will be revived in 2011.

I think the only way to pass the DREAM Act would be to link citizenship to military service, which Americans see as a sacrifice, dropping the link to college attendance, which most see as a subsidized benefit to the individual. Many legalized veterans would end up in community colleges.

Community colleges are struggling to maintain programs, Bradley writes.  Many states are cutting higher education funding, even as more people flood into community colleges looking for job training and a cheaper route through college.

Full funding of Pell Grants, federal aid for needy college students, could be at risk.

The program received a boost at the end of 2010 when a compromise to fund federal government operations through March included funding to close a $5.7 billion funding gap for 2011. The funding will keep the maximum benefit at $5,550 per eligible student. Without the additional funding it would have meant a reduction of about $850 per student.

The program, which projects an $8 billion budget shortfall in 2012, is scheduled to receive an extra $36 billion over 10 years.  But Jerry Lewis, R-CA,  the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, is reluctant to “bail out” Pell Grants.

Graduates say degrees are worth it

Is college worth the time and money? Yes, said 89 percent of recent college graduates in a survey for the American Council on Education (ACE).

Some 81 percent said their college education and experiences had prepared them for the workforce and to meet societal challenges. However, only 62 percent said they believe colleges in general are preparing students for demands of the modern workforce.

Asked the most important role of colleges and universities, 31 percent said “teaching students how to think critically” and 28 percent said “preparing students for employment.”  Another 17 percent selected “preparing students to solve problems that face our country” and 11 chose “preparing students to be responsible citizens.”

Forty percent said students and their families should bear primary responsibility for funding higher education; the federal government was second at 30 percent and the state government next at 30 percent.  Community college graduates were more likely to say funding higher education should be a governmental responsibility.