Dream Act: Good for students, colleges and the state

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Coming to the United States as a 15-year-old, Cuban-born refugee, it truly was a dream to think that I could go to college and become president of a great Maryland university. But with the support of many people along the way, and the belief instilled by my parents that education was the key to success, it is a dream come true.

That's why I support Question 4 — the Maryland Dream Act — which allows the children of undocumented workers to get in-state tuition at Maryland public universities. If this referendum passes, it could be the difference between achieving educational aspirations and not reaching full potential for thousands of people in our state.

Anyone who is striving to improve themselves by going to college is making an investment in their future. Numerous studies have shown that someone with a college degree will earn more over their entire career than someone without it. It follows that Maryland's economy can only grow with a more educated workforce.

Maryland taxpayers already have invested in these children by funding their elementary and secondary educations. We need their drive, their ambition and their dreams.

Opponents of the Dream Act ask why the state's taxpayers should give a free ride to children of undocumented immigrants when so many legal residents cannot afford college in these challenging economic times. In fact, the Dream Act does not give anyone a free ride. These students will pay exactly what any in-state Maryland resident would pay.

Some people argue that undocumented workers and their families do not pay taxes and, therefore, their dependents should not get a tax-supported benefit. But they do pay taxes. They pay sales taxes. They pay gasoline taxes. They pay property taxes either directly (if they own homes) or indirectly (if they rent). A requirement of the Dream Act states that parents of these students must have filed income taxes for three years.

Opponents also complain that passing Question 4 will allow children of undocumented workers to snap up coveted seats in state universities from other residents. This is misleading.

The Dream Act requires that after graduating from a Maryland high school, students must start their college career in a Maryland community college. They must earn 60 credit hours or graduate from a community college before they will be allowed to apply to a Maryland state university at the in-state tuition rate. When they do transfer, the law requires they be considered as out of state students for admissions purposes.

I, along with Chancellor William E. Kirwan and the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland, support the passage of the act and strongly believe that the entire system will benefit from the enrollment of these motivated students. At UMUC — the most frequent choice of community college transfer students in Maryland — we would have an even greater opportunity to expand workforce relevant programs, such as cybersecurity, homeland security and biotechnology, and supply employers with the qualified graduates they want to hire.

Opponents of the Dream Act say it will cost the state to subsidize these college educations. But a University of Maryland Baltimore County study found the opposite. Increases in tax revenue to the state paid by Dream Act students whose education gave them higher earning power will far exceed the costs.

In addition, the Dream Act extends the time period that military veterans have to apply for in-state tuition benefits from one year to four years. This will enable our veterans to better plan their post-service education and careers. UMUC has been educating the country's military personnel since we were founded in 1947 and we believe this will have a big impact on easing the stress of transitioning from the battlefield to civilian life. This need will only grow in importance over the next several years as we draw down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The prospect of a college education will induce more immigrant students to complete high school. It will create and maintain positive momentum in their lives. It will tap the ingenuity of these students to be entrepreneurs or teachers or accountants — or university presidents! They will build stronger families, arrive in the middle class, and can aim for the stars.

Should we deny them this opportunity? No. Shall we make certain the doors to a better life remain open? Yes. The Maryland Dream Act makes fiscal sense, it makes economic sense and it makes social sense.

Javier Miyares is president of University of Maryland University College. He left Cuba at 14 years old in the custody of his Jesuit teachers on July 4, 1961 after his father was taken prisoner by Fidel Castro following the Bay of Pigs incident. He eventually settled in Maryland where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Maryland. His email is javier.miyares@umuc.edu.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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