June 25, 2024

By Carol Jenkins, World Learning CEO, and Dr. Sophia Howlett, School for International Training president

Young man and woman in hijab sitting at desk in classroom reading papers.

In light of World Refugee Day in June, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel A. Cardona co-signed a letter addressed to the leadership of U.S. universities and colleges. The letter emphasized the significant role higher education institutions can—and should, in our opinionplay in resettling refugees.

Supporting refugee resettlement efforts can have a profound positive impact on campuses and their surrounding economies. We not only believe this to be true but know this definitively, having experienced it firsthand.

In snowy January 2022, more than 100 Afghan refugees arrived to live in the 12,000-person town of Brattleboro in southern Vermont. This made Brattleboro one of the first rural American communities to welcome Afghans in response to the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021.

Their arrival was part of a one-of-a-kind program piloted by World Learning and its academic arm, School for International Training (SIT), in close collaboration with a national refugee resettlement agency and local economic development organization. This unique coalition was formed to help incoming refugees restart their lives with few belongings and a great deal of uncertainty ahead.

SIT provided transitional housing for refugees on its campus and English language and cultural orientation training. Meanwhile, our partners oversaw case management and employment efforts. The program is now formally known as the New Vermonter Education Program, and to date, it has helped resettle more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan and other countries.

Refugee resettlement efforts can have a profound positive impact on campuses and their surrounding economies.

But refugee resettlement is not simply altruistic. It can have a powerful economic impact. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 2005 and 2019, refugees and asylees contributed $123.8 billion more to federal, state, and local governments than the cost of the benefits they received.

Resettled refugees in southern Vermont have been hired by 49 different employers and are making more than $3.7 million in annual taxable wages—all of which contribute to the local economy and tax base. At World Learning and SIT, we play a critical part in helping refugees by welcoming them to our campus, helping them learn English and understand American culture and Vermont life, and improving their relevant job skills as they work toward economic self-sufficiency.

In addition to the New Vermonter Education Program, World Learning leads the Supporting Higher Education in Refugee Resettlement (SHERR) program which works to bring U.S. colleges and universities more deeply into the refugee resettlement process. Through a consortium of key refugee resettlement and education leaders, this program builds the capacity of higher education institutions to directly support refugee resettlement efforts.

The Secretaries’ letter describes universities and colleges as being “messengers of welcome and beacons of hope and opportunity.” We couldn’t agree more. Higher education institutions are forward-thinking and robust ecosystems uniquely positioned to support refugee resettlement, especially when working in collaboration with resettlement agencies and local partners.

Supporting refugee resettlement directly advances the mission of higher education and benefits not only refugees but the entire community.

We know the challenges facing higher education are great and many. Global conflicts, declining enrollments, and the ongoing effects of the pandemic are just some of the difficult concerns leaders on campuses are grappling with every day.

But we also know that supporting refugee resettlement directly advances the mission of higher education and benefits not only refugees but the entire community. When schools support refugee populations, they enrich the educational experience of students, staff, and faculty and can enhance programs in creative ways.

We encourage our higher education colleagues to contact your school leadership to ensure they have received and thoughtfully read the letter. In addition, please speak with your fellow colleagues and networks about this initiative to raise awareness and encourage action.

We also suggest contacting the SHERR consortium at [email protected]  to learn more about different pathways of engagement and funding opportunities to support refugee resettlement. In addition, we recommended visiting the Refugee Resource Hub, a digital platform that integrates data and resources for higher education institutions to help support refugees in the United States.

By engaging with resettlement, your impact will be both local and global. You will strengthen the lives and families of others, your own institution, and the local community—all while teaching and living your institution’s mission.

The New Vermonter Education Program (NVEP) provides transitional housing and English language and cultural orientation programming for refugees in southern Vermont. World Learning and School for International Training manage the program in partnership with the Ethiopian Community Development Council and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.

The Supporting Higher Education Refugee Resettlement (SHERR) program builds the capacity of U.S. higher education institutions to support refugee resettlement in the United States. SHERR is led by World Learning in collaboration with the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, and Welcome.US. It is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.