California is now home to the first online university program designed specifically for undocumented immigrants.
The National Dream University, a joint project of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education and the National Labor College, will offer for the first time a year-long, nationally-accredited certificate to students interested in learning about immigration and labor rights. The six-class, 18-credit online pilot program marks an effort to make higher education more accessible to undocumented immigrants, according to project coordinator Alma Castrejon.
“There are students that are being barred from accessing college or university classes, or there’s just no opportunities for them,” Castrejon said. “Our main goal is to make higher education accessible to students who cannot otherwise access any form of higher education.”
According to Castrejon, the online nature of the program will help make it more accessible to undocumented immigrants.
“(NDU) allows students from all over the U.S. an opportunity to get an education while maintaining other commitments such as work, community organizing, and family,” reads the program’s website.
At $2,490, the year-long program will also cost significantly less than the average annual price of in-state tuition at a public university, which was $4,751 from 2009-10, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Applicants must demonstrate a previous involvement in past or current immigration or labor rights movements and have graduated from a U.S. high school with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Although the program is aimed at undocumented immigrants, applications from U.S. citizens will also be accepted.
Jon Rodney, the communications project coordinator for the California Immigrant Policy Center, said he was excited about the new university.
“Those areas (of immigration and labor rights) are really a crucial part of the history of this country,” Rodney said. “Having more civic engagement from everyone who lives here and (who) has a stake in this country is a very healthy thing for us (moving) forward.”
According to Castrejon, the National Dream University was inspired by Freedom University, a program created in Georgia last year after a revised state policy — which was later dropped — barred any state college or university from admitting undocumented immigrants.
“We realized there were 38 other states without in-state tuition for undocumented students,” Castrejon said. “Of the 12 that offer in-state tuition, only three offer some sort of financial aid.”
BAMN national organizer Yvette Felarca called the program a positive development, but said offering online classes is not the same thing as being able to attend a university as an official student.
“I don’t think this is a substitute, and I imagine that the people developing this don’t see this as a substitute,” Felarca said. “It just makes clear how much more ludicrous it is that we have not yet passed the federal DREAM Act.”
As recently as 2011, several versions of the federal DREAM Act — a bill that would provide conditional permanent residency to qualifying illegal immigrants who enter the United States as children — have been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s own version of the DREAM Act, allowing undocumented students access to the same financial aid programs available to other California residents.
According to Castrejon, the National Dream University was inspired by the DREAM act.
“Our name … (connects) with the whole DREAM act concept, with students trying to gain a path toward legalization,” Castrejon said.