In November, Marylanders will face an important choice. Question 4, a ballot referendum on the Maryland Dream Act, would extend in-state tuition to “Dreamers,” Maryland high school graduates who are undocumented but came to this country as children. We believe a yes vote for Question 4 on the November ballot is a vote for the future vitality of our state.
Given the skills required by the new economy, Maryland needs every high school graduate to obtain a post-secondary education. After all, over 75 percent of the jobs openings in Maryland are for middle and high skill jobs. These are the jobs that require education beyond high school and include mechanics, nurses and engineers.
We know firsthand the power of education to build a strong workforce and change both lives and communities. As the president and chair of the Montgomery College Board of Trustees, we are proud to welcome Dreamers to our college. Like other community colleges, Montgomery College is an open access institution with rolling admissions, which gives us the agility to meet student demand. We are prepared to live up to the central tenet of community colleges — to serve all those who come to our doors seeking an education and a better life.
Community colleges are fiercely proud of our open access mission. Our admissions process is not selective. What we ask of our students is that they bring a willingness to map out clear goals, work hard and achieve their dreams.
Key provisions in Maryland’s Dream Act legislation will ensure equity for all Maryland students. Families of Dreamers must file income taxes, and the students must pursue permanent residency. All Dreamers must earn their first 60 credits from a community college before they are eligible to transfer to a four-year public university in Maryland at the in-state tuition rate. After making admissions decisions, the four-year colleges and universities must count Dreamers as out-of state students, not in-state students.
This legislation would have made a difference in the life on one very special Montgomery College graduate, Jonathan Jayes-Green, whom we both have the privilege of knowing. Jonathan came to Maryland as a child. He mastered English quickly and graduated from his Montgomery County high school with a 4.04 grade point average and college credits. He also accumulated more than 1,000 community service hours.
But during his senior year of high school, Jonathan learned the news that would forever change his future — he was undocumented. Admitted to six selective universities but ineligible for financial aid, Jonathan could not afford their tuition, and he enrolled at Montgomery College.
Their loss was our gain. Jonathan thrived in our honors program, and in leadership roles at the college and in the community. We were proud to award Jonathan his diploma, and we will continue to watch his educational successes as he pursues additional degrees.
Jonathan epitomizes the American Dream of today. He understands that simply attending college is not enough; that combining a vision with hard work is key — and that his success will benefit our community and our state. Students like Jonathan inspired the Board of Trustees of Montgomery College to pass a resolution in support of the Dream Act this summer.
How could we not? The open access mission of community colleges speaks to the American Dream and to the ideal that no mind should go to waste. Through hard work and with access to education, anyone can achieve. How could we deny that dream to a group of young people simply because of the circumstance of their birth?
History has shown us time and time again what happens when we fail to provide equal educational opportunities to all. Our great state of Maryland should vote “yes” on Question Four and be on the right side of history — and Dreamers.
Dr. DeRionne Pollard is president of Montgomery College. Stephen Z. Kaufman is chair of the Montgomery College Board of Trustees.