Bruce's Blog

Jan. 13, 2014

Our Future Student Body & the Washington Dream Act

Today, on the first day of a new legislative session in Olympia, I am encouraged to see that the Washington State House of Representatives has again voted to pass the Washington State Dream Act, bringing undocumented students one step closer to being eligible for the State Need Grant, and to building brighter futures for themselves, their communities, and the State of Washington.

I feel just as strongly today about the importance of passing the Dream Act as I did this past fall, when I spoke of it during my Opening Convocation speech:

Our Future Student Body

Consider what I believe to be the greatest threat to brighter futures for Washington: a grossly insufficient capacity to provide baccalaureate education. 

In the knowledge-based and flattened globe of today, other nations get it.  In the developed and developing world, the generation coming into adulthood is better prepared than is the generation that preceded it.

There is an outlier.  It is us.  The coming generation in the United States is going to be less well educated than the generation that preceded it.

The US as a whole is failing.  Within the US, where does the state of Washington rank? Near last.  Around 46th among the 50 states.

You have previously heard me decry that threat.  You may not have heard me as forcefully point to a critical part of the solution. 

I spent several weeks this summer meeting with leaders of many universities in Asia.  There was one common denominator: they are all hungry for more international students.  For the same academically important reasons that motivate us.  But, also, as a matter of survival: survival of their universities, survival of their national economies.

They point to a 25% over-capacity in higher education—they have the seats, but not the applicants.  Universities are being closed; more will be.  They tell me that businesses and industries, hungry for developed talent, are running scared.

Why is this happening?  It’s the demographic collapse.  With decades of smaller family size, college-age folks are no longer out there in the usual numbers.  The same problems are also found in much of Europe, by the way.

The problem will only become more severe as the baby boomers (you are looking at one) retire.

What about the United States?  We face the same decline in average family size for much of our population. 

We also have an edge. We are growing.  Through immigration and through the different family size choices that currently characterize certain of these more recent arrivals.

In a sentence, and there is really nothing novel about this in the great American experience: our pluralism is our strength … and our salvation if we have the wisdom to seize it.

Therein lies the reason why Western fights for the “Dream Act,” in order that undocumented students could qualify for federal and state need-based financial aid.  Our Associated Student partners were in the lead and did a superb job.  Progress was made – President Obama’s Executive Order suspending deportation of undocumented students has been very helpful.   But neither the federal nor the state Dream Act made it over the goal line.

Think about that.  I don’t care what your politics are – liberal or conservative … tea party or pot party – in these growing populations we have a powerful competitive edge.   Cashing in that advantage is a matter of pure self-interest ... for us, for our state, for our nation. 

Education is how we cash in that advantage.

Understandably, the young people brought to our shores by their parents may call it the “Dream Act.”  For those of us in positions of privilege who wish to sustain our well being, it should be called the “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee” Act.



Page Updated 01.24.2014