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Guiding Principles for University Sponsorship of Refugee Students

The Initiative on U.S. Education Pathways for Refugee Students developed the following guiding principles to inform and ground the design and implementation of any college or university sponsorship program for refugee students.

1. Student-Centered. University sponsorship should be student-centered and focus on refugee learners’ inherent strengths, placing students’ prior knowledge, experience, and learning in the foreground of decision-making and program design. A successful university sponsorship model will center refugee students throughout the program implementation and evaluation. Designing and implementing a student-centered program is the right and best approach to enhance refugee self-reliance.

“Refugee youth have the potential to act as agents of change. Let’s engage refugee students in the design. We know our own challenges best and can contribute to solutions.” 

– Bwema Matata, Columbia University

2. Private Sponsorship. Private sponsorship is the pairing of refugees with groups of individuals, such as local clubs, businesses, university communities, or faith groups, who commit to providing financial, logistical, and integration support for refugees accepted through resettlement programs. Private university sponsorship can expand the pool of refugees identified to come to the U.S., strengthen campus communities, and foster positive attitudes towards refugees and resettlement in areas where refugees are not traditionally resettled.

3. Additionality. A university sponsorship program, within the context of a broader private sponsorship program, should follow the principle of “additionality.” When traditional, government-assisted resettlement is augmented, rather than supplanted, by private sponsorship, the U.S. resettles the same number of the most vulnerable refugees as it would have without private sponsorship. At the same time, the U.S. creates additional pathways for refugee students to secure both safety and academic opportunity. To move toward establishing a program that is truly additional, the Initiative recommends that the U.S. government formally and explicitly create additional places for sponsored refugees each year, distinct from its annual government-assisted resettlement target. The quota of privately-sponsored refugees could be set as an absolute number each year, or as a percentage of the annual Presidential Determination of government sponsored refugees. (1)

4. Equity, Transparency, and Accountability. The Initiative’s recommendations are informed by a deep commitment to developing a university sponsorship program that is built on equity, transparency, and accountability. Through the outreach, recruitment and application process, supports will be designed for refugee students to access the program equitably. The application and selection process will be as transparent as possible so that the organizations involved can be held accountable for equitable access.

(1).  IRAP, the Niskanen Center, and Amnesty International. (June 2021). Recommendations for Private Sponsorship Design in an Expanded Community Sponsorship System. https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Private-Sponsorship-Paper.pdf