UMBC convenes research forum on immigration and mobility in higher education

Published: Jun 25, 2019

In the late spring, the UMBC Center for Social Science Scholarship (CS3) convened researchers for the 2019 Research Forum: Immigration and Mobility in Higher Education. The event was the fifth in a UMBC research forum series that highlights original research and interdisciplinary discussions about pressing national and international issues. Christine Mallinson, director of CS3, co-hosted the event with Karl Steiner, vice president for research, to spotlight UMBC’s immigration research and to enable new collaborations.

Mallinson welcoming forum attendees.
Mallinson welcoming forum attendees.

Through the forum, Mallinson aimed to create a space for discussion and brainstorming for both students and faculty. “This critically relevant forum creates new collaborations and research that can change conversations about the effect immigration has on education, economics, workforce, and policy,” she explained. 

Panelists and attendees included UMBC faculty, staff, and students from the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS), College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT), and College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (CNMS), as well as the Office of International Education Services

Julie Park, associate professor of sociology and director of Asian American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, delivered the event’s keynote address. Park spoke to the changing demographics and intergenerational mobility of new immigrants who are working to attain secondary and postsecondary degrees.

Trauma-informed services

The first panel, “Borders of Opportunity: Migration, Education, and Mobility and Immigration Policies,” focused on global education, the social welfare of immigrants in the U.S., and the information-seeking behavior of highly educated immigrants. 

In this panel, Jayshree Jani, associate professor of social work, shared research on the burdens that undocumented students carry. Daunting situations such as being separated from their parents, having a parent incarcerated, and being unable to access social services cause long-term trauma for children, even years after reunification or receiving support services. “When someone is undocumented and living in fear, it is really hard for them to have a stable life,” explained Jani. 

Jani, center, discussing immigrant family separations.

Her research showed how visible and invisible consequences of trauma currently overwhelm local schools, communities, and law enforcement. She described a significant need for training in how to provide trauma-informed services, and noted that this gap has had major negative impacts.

Jani’s call to action was to inspire her colleagues and future providers to conduct more research. “In order to support trauma-informed services in schools,” she argued, “universities need to encourage research on this population and prepare future professionals to create, expand, and provide services.”

International student perspective

Awareness of and access to services is a hurdle that undocumented and documented immigrants, as well as international students and faculty, must navigate. Doctoral student Wajanat Rayes, information systems, attended the forum, bringing to the event her perspective as both an international student and a researcher.  

Rayes investigates the role that information networks play in the lives of international students. She specifically focuses on the transition to the U.S. of highly skilled Saudi Arabian international students who are also mothers. “I like how information can empower people and mitigate the challenges we have day today,” she says. 

“I am a faculty member at a university in Saudi Arabia and a mother,” Rayes shares. “I have had a lot of challenges in my transition to studying in the U.S. I hope my research will help other mothers navigate the system in the future.”

Immigration and higher education

The second panel examined “Immigration Policies and Politics: Local, National, and International Impact.” Four UMBC faculty presented the latest research about higher education policies and their effects on immigrant and international students. They also discussed the current landscape of international research exchange in higher education and the role of higher education associations in immigration policy debates.

Mortarboard from commencement 2018.

In this session, UMBC researchers Tim Gindling, professor of economics, and Lisa Dickson, associate professor of economics, focused on access to higher education for undocumented youth. Their ongoing research covers the cost-benefit analysis of policies that determine the price of higher education for undocumented students—access to-state resident tuition and additional financial aid. They also examine the impact of the national Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy on students’ enrollment, graduation, and persistence in higher education.

Gindling in his office.

“The takeaway, however we looked at the data, was that the benefits were greater than the costs,” explained Gindling. The research results showed that for each undocumented student who graduates from a four-year college, who would not have gone otherwise, the net benefits to the state were $350,000. 

“Providing access to higher education and financial aid to undocumented youth is a good investment for the individual, for the state, and for the government as a whole,” said Gindling.

The power of listening

After participants and audience members listened to the panelists they were given an opportunity to share different perspectives on these issues through microtalk roundtables. Groups joined sessions on law and policy, transnational migration, and higher education. 

One discussion centered around what a stronger, more positive relationship between immigrants and the United States would look like. Immigrants who are able to access higher education and financial aid are more likely to move into the white-collar workforce. Entering the professional workforce means immigrants also earn more and pay higher taxes. Greater earning power opens opportunities to buy property, start businesses, and contribute to a thriving state and national economy. 

“It is important to listen to the array of immigrant experiences,” explained Ruth Temesgen ‘19, sociology, who attended the event as part of her Immigration and Refugee Law class. Her parents were highly skilled government employees in Ethiopia who left during the country’s civil war. Their credentials did not transfer in the United States. They could only access service-level jobs.

Seeing how much her parents and other immigrants have struggled inspired Temesgen to pursue a path to law school. “Reaching beyond our comfort zones to understand how global events impact people at a personal, economic, educational, and mental health level can change what is now an isolating experience to a welcoming and prosperous partnership.” 

To learn about future CS3 events, join the conversation on Twitter at @UMBCSocSci.

Banner image: (L to R): Steiner, Mallinson, Don Engel, assistant vice president for research, and Casper. All images by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

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