We need a new pathway for higher education to help refugees (opinion)
Just over a year ago, President Biden issued a Executive Decree to revitalize the U.S. refugee program, and its subsequent administration articulated planes launch a pilot program allowing private entities to identify refugees to sponsor and support their resettlement. Higher education officials have stepped up in response, knowing it could create a college and university pathway for refugee students to resettle, study, and stay in the United States. to campuses highlighting the important role colleges and universities play in meeting a global need for the resettlement of refugee students.
When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, university students and staff immediately became targets. US higher education officials reached out to colleagues and contacts in Afghanistan to support evacuation efforts for those at risk, particularly Afghan women. Our institutions, Arizona State University and Bard College, have assisted with departures and provided support to those who have managed to flee. We now welcome at-risk Afghan scholars, activists and students to our two institutions, working to build a makeshift infrastructure and support system during a crisis.
While we are grateful to be able to offer this support, our experiences hosting these students highlight current gaps in how US colleges and universities welcome displaced learners and advocate for a higher education pathway. . If an infrastructure of policies and programs allowing colleges and universities to welcome refugee and displaced students had been in place, many more campuses would open their doors to Afghan students.
As we continue to respond to the urgent needs of Afghan evacuees and as we watch developments in Ukraine, we must recognize that the challenge is far greater than the displaced population of a single country. Throughout the world, forced displacement has approximately doubled over the past decade, increasing the number of college-aged youth who are passionate about pursuing their education but lack the opportunity. Less than 1% refugees around the world are resettled each year, and only 5 percent access higher education.
Fortunately, over the past year, we have seen significant momentum behind the concept of a new college and university sponsorship pathway. The recently launched RESPONSE Campaign: College and University Sponsorship of Refugee Students is a new campaign supporting expanded pathways for refugee students. And one accompanying reportprepared by the Presidents Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration and its partners, including our two institutions, contains recommendations for how the United States can develop, implement, and sustain such a program.
Notably, the Biden administration is also engaging, hosting a White House meeting on college support for displaced Afghans, including students, and reiterating its intention to pilot a private sponsorship initiative. Sarah Cross, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the US Department of State, recently expressed specific support for a university sponsorship program for refugee students.
The time has come for the administration to act on private sponsorship initiatives, including university, especially as the administration comes refugee admissions restarted after a temporary freeze last month. We have all seen first-hand examples of how supporting the education of refugee students is not just the law thing to do, defend and advance the fundamental values of higher education, but also a clever thing to do, providing an opportunity for forward-thinking colleges and universities.
ASU’s Education for Humanity Initiative and Bard help lead the Higher Education Access Program for Refugeesa pillar of the Open Society University Network. This program is for learners who need additional college-level preparation in order to progress to certificate or diploma programs. With a foundation in East Africa and the Middle East but with global aspirations, this collaboration has helped many refugee students to continue their studies while expanding the partnerships, innovation and global spirit of our institutions. Refugee students bring unique ideas and perspectives to the classroom, whether in discussions about the meaning of law and citizenship, the interpretation of literature, or the consequences of foreign policy. Refugee learners and their experiences are invaluable to students and teachers.
We invite other higher education leaders to join us in these efforts, continuing to support displaced Afghans through initiatives such as the Welcome Campus Networkand engaging in the RESPONSE countryside create and sustain a new college and university sponsorship pathway for refugee students.
As our two examples demonstrate, support for higher education for refugee students should not be limited to one type of institution: ASU is a state university with one of the largest enrollments in the country, while Bard is a liberal arts university with an enrollment of approximately 2,000. Despite our differences, we share a commitment to the education of refugee students and recognize that now is the time – and the new academic pathway vehicles – to address this global challenge facing higher education.