Task Force on Immigration and Higher Education in Central Massachusetts

In August 2007, the Colleges of Worcester Consortium, Inc. created a task force to examine the issue of immigration and higher education in Central Massachusetts.

It has become increasingly clear from recent demographic and economic studies and projections that the population in the northeast, and certainly in Central Massachusetts, is showing very limited growth. There is evidence that a decline in the “native-born” population is caused by significant out-migration due to a number of factors, including the high cost of living, limited career opportunities and a declining birth rate. The limited population growth that is evident is due primarily to the recent influx of immigrants to this area, with the largest numbers in Worcester coming from Ghana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, El Salvador, Albania and Liberia.
It is also clear that the area’s economy is becoming more knowledge-based with an increasing percentage of all new jobs requiring some form of postsecondary education. According to the 2007 Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development’s Job Vacancy Survey, 38 percent of current job vacancies in Massachusetts require an associate’s degree or higher. This represents an increase from 30 percent in 2003. Consequently, the level of education that the immigrant population attains is of vital importance to everyone—not only to immigrant students and their families, but also to the economic well-being of the entire region.
The Task Force was charged with researching the barriers to higher education faced by this new wave of immigrants and suggesting recommendations to address those barriers. The 36-member Task Force was made up of representatives from Consortium member institutions; federal, state and local governments; community and faith- based organizations; the Worcester Public Schools; the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education; and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. Meetings were held over a six-month period, during which the Task Force identified three main barriers faced by immigrant communities in accessing higher education, and sub-committees were created to work on each of these. Speakers were invited to present on topics of interest. Two public hearings were held, the first of which was conducted at Worcester State College in October. It attracted community representatives, as well as college and high school faculty and administrators. The second hearing, held at the downtown branch of Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) in December, was attended by immigrant (English for Speakers of Other Languages – ESOL and GED) students as well as QCC staff.