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Education, innovation and economic growth

Reform of our nation’s
immigration system
is a divisive issue
and the imperative for
lawmakers to produce
a comprehensive bill
that is both equitable
and beneficial to our
economy has never
been more urgent.

Despite the divergent
perspectives we each may hold on the
complex issues surrounding immigration,
there is one aspect of any such
proposal that Americans should be willing
to get behind because of its potential
to contribute to the economic growth
of Arizona and the nation. This concerns
reform of immigration laws regarding the
status of international students, many of
whom receive advanced educations in
scientific and technical fields that are critical
drivers of the U.S. economy. Upon the
completion of their studies, these highly
trained scientists, engineers, researchers
and professionals, often described as the
“best and brightest,” bring untold potential
for discovery and innovation to our
workforce and nation’s laboratories. New
research shows the extent to which their
contributions in turn create jobs that spur
our economy.

As the president of one of the nation’s
largest public research universities, I wish
to underscore the imperative of attracting
and retaining these highly educated
international students and graduates. The
U.S. can no longer afford to train the most
talented international students in our
leading institutions of higher education
only to send them back overseas to compete
against us in the global marketplace
simply because our immigration system
does not provide an opportunity for them
to utilize their talent and training in our
work force. Streamlining the “green card
process” to allow international students
who receive advanced degrees in the
STEM fields – science, technology, engineering
and mathematics – to remain in
the U.S. serves our national interests.

In March, I joined David Skorton,
president of Cornell University, and Eduardo
Padrón, president of Miami Dade
College, in an open letter addressed to
academic leaders regarding this aspect of
immigration reform. We cited compelling
evidence of the contributions of these researchers
and professionals to our economy.

For example, three-fourths of patents
issued to the 10 American universities
that produced the most patents in 2011
were awarded to immigrant researchers.
According to research from the American
Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for
a New American Economy, each foreignborn
American-trained advanced-degree
recipient working in a STEM fi eld creates
2.62 jobs for American workers. Finally,
we cited research that projects a shortage
in our nation of more than 220,000 workers
for jobs that require advanced STEM
degrees by 2018.

The number of international students
seeking enrollment at our colleges and
universities attests to the perception
that these institutions offer opportunities
found nowhere else. Arizona figures
prominently in this equation because in
authoritative international assessments,
both Arizona State University and the
University of Arizona rank in the top 100
globally. ASU continues to be one of the
top choices for international students,
placing twentieth in the nation among all
colleges and universities during the past
two years, according to the Institute of
International Education. ASU draws students
from 120 countries because of the
breadth of its programs and reputation for
innovative academic programs and worldclass
research. Not only is ASU a national
leader in undergraduate STEM education
but its graduate programs in these fields
are among the best across the board.
The university advances critical national
research in such areas as earth and space
science, renewable energy, advanced
materials, microelectronics, healthcare, national
security, and urban systems design.

Providing access to higher education to
qualified Arizona students is the first phase
of advancing the economic competitiveness
of our state in the global knowledge
economy. We leverage our most valuable
assets when we build a highly skilled
work force. And the issue is especially
important for Arizona, because without
broadly educated graduates who possess
specialized cutting-edge skills requisite for
success in the contemporary workplace,
our state risks losing ground against more
competitive regions. ASU economists
estimate that just a single percentage
point increase of college graduates in the
Arizona workforce would in time increase
aggregate earnings in the state by $2.1
billion per year. And this is to say nothing
of the less quantifiable personal and social
impacts of education.

Retaining highly educated international
students in the work force is similarly
essential to the competitiveness and prosperity
of our region. Arizona is poised to
become one of America’s leading centers
for innovation-based economic development,
with potential for global leadership
in a range of industries, including the
biosciences, solar energy, aerospace,
and defense. Already among the 10
leading states nationally in the conduct
of scientific and technologically oriented
economic activity, Arizona depends on
the growth of our innovative capacity to
create new companies and encourage others
to relocate here, spurring job growth
and boosting tax revenues and overall
prosperity. Support for smart immigration
reform to retain this talent is about both
economics and equity. The decisions we
make regarding whom we educate and
whom we exclude from our work force and
laboratories will impact all of us.

Michael M. Crow is President of Arizona
State University.