National Forum Presents at ACCU on Undocumented Student Access

By Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

Cardinal Dolan and Dan Parrish CSC at ACCU Conference

Cardinal Dolan and Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

To anyone who follows the National Forum online it is no secret that we have been substantially engaged in studying undocumented student access since 2007.  I recently had the privilege of presenting some of our findings at the annual conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) in Washington, DC, February 2-4, 2013.

My presentation was titled “Developing Resources and Networks: Solutions Grounded in Research.”  I reported on some powerful resources the National Forum team has been creating, in response to some of our interesting research findings, especially as they relate to Catholic higher education.  As I was preparing for the presentation, I met with several of my colleagues at the National Forum to hear what they felt was most important from our research.  They were happy to report some compelling findings about Catholic institutions.

A current research project funded by the Ford Foundation includes a series of five case studies which explore the experiences of universities who have engaged the issue of undocumented student access in different ways.  One of the five institutions is a Catholic university that has been vocal in its outreach to the undocumented.  While it is fairly uncommon for university leaders to speak out publicly in support of undocumented students, our researchers were even more surprised about how outspoken the leaders of this university were.  As they dove more deeply into the case, they found that the institution’s leaders were drawing clear connections between the institution’s mission and history and were highlighting Catholic social teaching.  It is certainly true that private institutions are freer than many of their public peers when it comes to admissions decisions–they can basically admit whomever they wish.  It is nevertheless noteworthy that some leaders in Catholic higher education are rooting their advocacy for the undocumented in deeply held historical and religious principles.

We find ourselves at an interesting crossroads regarding immigration policy in the United States.  Though the DREAM Act has failed to pass numerous times, we are hearing renewed calls for comprehensive immigration reform from both the right and the left.  The Catholic Church does not have a universal policy regarding immigration reform, and it does not support any one approach.  The magisterium (the bishops, when acting together as teachers) has, however, repeatedly endorsed policies that care for the poorest in our communities, including the undocumented.  Especially in the U.S., where the Catholic Church has been composed largely of immigrant populations, there is an added historical perspective that informs modern immigration issues.

The Ford case studies, in conjunction with earlier National Forum research funded by the Texas Guarantee Student Loan Association, have informed the creation of an exciting new resource, the uLEAD Network (the case studies will be posted to the uLEAD Network when they are complete.)  This website has been designed to be a repository of various types of research regarding contentious issues in higher education, especially the current issue of undocumented student access.  Three of the key features of the site are:

1. Data repository: The website will be the National Forum’s primary repository of data regarding undocumented student access.  This will include (but not be limited to): case studies, articles, videos, testimonials, policy briefs, learning modules, reports, and bibliographies.  Others will be encouraged to share resources by submitting them to the National Forum to be uploaded to the site.

2. Network: The site will allow for networking between users, on a one-to-one basis.  While we initially considered the possibility of the site serving increased social networking (chatrooms, discussion boards, etc.), our research showed that moderated social connections would be more useful to our target demographic (administrators, faculty, and staff of universities.)

3. Safe and secure: To provide for maximum security on the site, we are implementing a number of measures.  First, all user accounts will be confirmed by phone call.  This will help us personally verify all members of the uLEAD community.  Second, only National Forum researchers will be able to upload resources to the site (users may forward resources to us if they would like it uploaded.)  No sensitive (personal) information will reside on the site, so there is no danger from hacking.  Third, all networking will be moderated on a one-to-one basis, meaning that those interested in connecting with another member of the uLEAD community will work through National Forum researchers.  We will then connect them with others who have offered to be contacted.  This will ensure that any connections will be limited and meaningful.

The uLEAD Network is scheduled to go live by March of 2013.  It represents years of research into the issues leaders in higher education are facing, especially regarding undocumented student access.  Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we will be excited to announce when this new resource is ready to go live.

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