America: Land of Opportunity - Brian Ashton
What America has to offer can change lives around the world—but not in the ways you might think. Learn how social impact staffing is extending hope beyond our borders.
By: Brian Ashton
President, BYU-Pathway Worldwide
Andrés Felipe Gómez Guerra worked as a welder struggling to make ends meet. He wanted to better provide for his family but felt trapped by his limited options for education and jobs in his homeland of Colombia.
A century ago, Andrés would have had to leave his home country to have any hope of finding better financial circumstances. In fact, between 1892 and 1924, over 12 million immigrants left their former lives behind and journeyed to Ellis Island in search of economic opportunity in the United States of America. But today, individuals like Andrés don’t have to cross oceans and borders to partake of the benefits of the great land of opportunity; instead, America is able to outsource economic resources to help improve lives around the globe.
The United States offers incredible economic opportunities. Like the rest of the world, it has
gone through turbulent times, but it has proven resilient. There are ample employment
opportunities. With hard work, people can and often do improve their economic situation. The
job market is robust enough that if someone gets a marketable degree, he or she can typically
get a job.
This is not the case in much of the world. BYU-Pathway Worldwide, which is sponsored by The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, provides access to online, low-cost, marketable
certificates and degrees from BYU-Idaho and Ensign College to more than 61,000 students in
over 180 countries. Nearly 60% of those students live outside of the United States and Canada,
many in countries where labor markets are moderately or extremely inefficient. The idea that a
university degree will often result in a job often doesn’t work in these nations.
The reasons for this are varied: corruption, crime, burdensome regulations, lack of foreign
direct investment, underdeveloped markets, social dynamics, geography, etc. But the impact on
students is clear. Over a third of BYU-Pathway students indicate that they do not regularly get
two meals a day. Another 60% report not having stable housing, with 7% not knowing where
they will live from month to month.
While the United States has its challenges, the economy is one of the most, if not the most,
developed in the world. Service in government is not typically a way to enrich oneself. The
regulatory scheme tries to balance business, the environment, and other social needs. There
are efficient markets and stable financial institutions where businesses can generally obtain
needed capital. As a large country, our geographic location and large markets make it relatively easy to find consumers for products. And finally, while we have our social challenges, most
people are able to participate in the job market if they work hard and get an education through
a university, trade school, or other vocational training.
I recently returned from a trip to Eastern Europe. I met BYU-Pathway students who were bright,
well-educated, hardworking, honest, and very capable. Nearly all of them dream of having
more opportunity. These students love their countries and want to stay in them. But they often
can’t see a way to have the careers that will allow them to support their families and be
established in their lands as we are in ours. I find this situation to be common in many places
throughout the world.
At BYU-Pathway, we believe that there is a solution. In the majority of these countries, workers
need to make less than $10 USD per hour to be established, meaning they are able to support a
family, educate their children, and serve in their church and community. BYU-Pathway students
get to receive a university degree from the United States, taking courses online at a price
adjusted to their home country’s economy. They also get experience working across borders
and completing their coursework in English. This prepares students to build up their own
communities while working remotely for companies in the United States, Canada, Western
Europe, Australia, and other highly developed economies that often lack skilled workers. Over
the past year, approximately 3,000 BYU-Pathway students have found remote work at livable
wages working for companies based primarily in the United States. Some call this offshoring;
we call it social impact staffing.
Hiring BYU-Pathway students has been a win for these U.S.-based companies who have been
able to hire skilled workers at lower costs. It has also been a win for students who have been
lifted out of poverty and are able to be established in their home countries. For America, it is
another chance to provide opportunity to the downtrodden.
In Konrad Putzier’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Next Wave of Remote Work is
About Outsourcing Jobs Overseas,” Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom reported,
“About 10% to 20% of U.S. service support jobs ... could move overseas in the next decade.
Office offshoring isn’t new. ... What is changing is that more companies are moving highly
skilled jobs abroad. Labor shortages mean many companies struggle to hire in the U.S., while
immigration-bureaucracy backlogs and a lack of visas make it harder to bring in employees from
overseas. … But hiring workers overseas allows companies to respond to U.S. labor shortages,
add talented workers and cut back on their wage bills, easing pressure on inflation.”
Wanting to change his circumstances, Andrés enrolled in BYU-Pathway Worldwide. After
completing his first three courses, he was hired at a bilingual contact center and started earning
five times his previous salary. After finishing his first certificate, he connected with Bloom, a
third-party staffing company that helps students get remote jobs. Now working there as a
success manager, he has engaging work that uses his skillset and is earning more than eight
times what he was making seven years ago! With greater financial stability, Andrés has been
able to enjoy more time with his family and find hope in his homeland of Colombia.
On November 2, 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote these immortal words that are now affixed to the
pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (Ellis Island is part of the Statue of Liberty complex):
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
In the twenty-first century, with the advent of modern communication and remote work, those
words may have a different meaning. Rather than ships bringing immigrants to Ellis Island,
many of the downtrodden come by way of the internet and videoconferencing and only stay
during the workday, but America still is a land of opportunity for which I and thousands of BYU-
Pathway students around the world are grateful.