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We will continue to open doors for undocumented students

Read Dr. Stephen M. Jordan’s opinion column in the Jan. 14 edition of the Denver Post.

By President Stephen Jordan, Ph.D.

January 18, 2017

Since the November election undocumented students across the country have expressed fear and anguish that they will lose their opportunity to a better future and perhaps even see their families and themselves deported. This is true here in Colorado.

The week after the election there was a student march on campus to express support for undocumented students – many of whom felt threatened by the election results and subsequent reports in the media. I met with about 100 of the marchers – who subsequently met with the leaders at CU Denver and Community College of Denver – to reassure them that we will continue to support and encourage these students to complete their education.

At Metropolitan State University of Denver, we have worked hard to ensure that students and Colorado’s taxpayers understand that we remain true to our core values, which include access and diversity.

MSU Denver’s commitment is both a matter of philosophy and law. Since first opening our doors more than 50 years ago, the University has been known as a diverse and welcoming place for students, faculty and staff with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. In June 2012, our trustees took a courageous stand on behalf of Colorado’s undocumented to create a special tuition rate that provided easier access to education. This bold move is widely recognized as heralding the passage of Colorado’s ASSET bill, after a decade of unsuccessful attempts.

We were committed then, and still are today, to supporting underrepresented students and closing the attainment gap because it is the right thing to do. Today, ASSET students at MSU Denver account for 56 percent of the state’s enrollment of undocumented students and we lead the state in offering support programs for people of color, immigrants and refugees.

In June 2012, President Obama added an extra level of protection with an executive order known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that allowed undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and allowed them to get a work permit. This means these students can work while going to school and will be employed after graduating.

DACA, the ASSET bill and MSU Denver’s stand on tuition for Colorado’s undocumented students all combined to give this group of young people some ease of mind regarding their ability to get an affordable college education. After all, Denver has always been a welcoming community to anyone willing to work hard and contribute to making our state stronger.

While much of 2016’s election rhetoric was inflammatory, it is important to recognize that politics and policy don’t always coincide. We don’t know if the incoming administration will rescind DACA. We do know that undocumented students in Colorado, if they meet the eligibility requirements, will continue to have their right to in-state tuition protected by Colorado’s ASSET bill. And, perhaps more importantly, we do know that consistent with federal privacy laws, MSU Denver will not release or share our ASSET students’ information with federal immigration officials without a court order.

Soon after the election, I joined more than almost 600 U.S. university and college presidents in signing what’s known as the Pomona College letter after its originating institution. It is a statement urging the incoming administration to continue DACA. This statement affirmed our commitment and responsibility to these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, as “both a moral imperative and a national necessity.”

Our ASSET students are among some of the hardest-working and high-achieving students that we have. They are contributing valuable talent and skills back to their communities and the national economy. Some have served as leaders on our student government, and some have become strong spokespersons for the educational success of underrepresented students, often inspiring elected officials and civic leaders. As a university president, I could not be more proud of them.

George Washington Carver said that “Education is the key to unlock the golden door to freedom.” Our core values of diversity and access ensure we provide educational opportunity to all students, helping them find the key to giant locked doors. That is why we want more students with the kinds of experiences that ASSET students bring – not less.

Stephen M. Jordan is president of Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Jordan's column appeared in the Jan. 14 edition of the The Denver Post.

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