USC News

Menu Search

College for Immigrants

Calif. law letting illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition must be backed by the federal DREAM Act, to help the U.S. economy, says Jody Agius Vallejo.

The California Supreme Court recently upheld a state law that allows illegal immigrants to pay the lower, in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama and the U.S. Congress are pushing for a vote on the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors to qualify for federal financial aid to attend college. The legislation would also provide a pathway to citizenship for these students.

The court decision and the DREAM Act may appear to benefit only a select group of individuals. But sociologist Jody Agius Vallejo of the USC College believes that educating these individuals will lead to a stronger workforce, a better economy and a wealthier nation for all.

As baby boomers begin retiring next year, they will leave millions of jobs that require advanced degrees to perform. For the economy to keep growing, a significant proportion of those jobs will have to be filled by the 1.5 million or so undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.

Withholding financial aid from these students, or blocking their path to college, will deny them the educational opportunities they need to take high-skill jobs, says Agius Vallejo, who studies the Latino middle class. It could also make them feel disenfranchised, with few options to become productive members of society.

“If you perceive that the American Dream is open to you, it can change the way you think about your future,” Agius Vallejo notes. “Is it worth it to strive in school? If you cannot go to college, why would a teacher or a counselor spend the same effort on your education?” Parents and students who know that a college education is possible will save money for tuition and will invest more resources in preparing for college, she explains. “And at a societal level, it says these people are worthy of this opportunity.”

Agius Vallejo adds that while the California law reduces the financial barriers for illegal immigrants so that they can attend state universities, the federal law is needed to ensure that the students have access to loans and, most importantly, a way to become U.S. citizens.

“The DREAM Act provides an avenue for people to use their education. If you graduate from college and don’t have your papers, how do you obtain a job commensurate with your educational credentials?” she asks.

Agius Vallejo’s research, and that of other scholars, has found that the effects of legislation like the DREAM Act would be multigenerational. The adult children of parents who became citizens tend to be better educated and hold higher-paying jobs than those whose parents were unable to legalize their status.

More stories about:

College for Immigrants

Top stories on USC News