Online university for undocumented students cancelled

The National Dream University (NDU) that could have allowed undocumented students to receive higher education was shut down last week after a California lawmaker publicly scrutinized the program.

The university would have been an accredited online college. It was  a collaboration between the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Labor Center and the National Labor College and would have offered 18 units in social justice-based classes during the course of one year for $2,500, according to Alma Castrejon, coordinator at the UCLA Labor Center.

“For undocumented students that have to pay out-of-state or international tuition, that is much more affordable,” Castrejon said.

California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), who is a member of California’s appropriations committee that approves funding for UC schools, voiced his disapproval of taxpayer money supporting immigrants’ higher education.

Donnelly, also vice chairman of elections for higher education, believes his statement led to the cancellation of the program.

“You’re going to have the taxpayers subsidizing it, so that illegal aliens can go to college, have their own little college, teach their own ideology and all at taxpayer expense,” Donnelly said publicly in August.

Donnelly’s office made an inquiry to UCLA as to whether the money for the NDU would come from California’s public resources and taxpayer money. UCLA confirmed his suspicion, he said.

“I believe after myself and Fox News made the inquiry (about the funds), they realized this wouldn’t sit well with people who would subsidize a university their kids are excluded from, and the NDU was essentially ended,” Donnelly said.

UCLA President Mark Yudof responded to Donnelly when he said UCLA would not be able to continue the program after the research behind the NDU did not go through the proper channels, according to Fox News.

In a statement Yudof also said the program was made without the “approval of UCLA’s academic and administrative leadership.”

“I guarantee Yudof looked at the polls and thought it was probably not a good time to have this story out there,” Donnelly said. “The only reason I can find for them to do the right thing for once is because we are going into an election year when both higher education and K-12 are slated for almost $6 billion in cuts, so (the NDU) was not going to go over well with most Californians who would have to pay more taxes for it.”

Donnelly, who has spoken about immigration and taxes on The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, added that people should be less surprised the program ended and more surprised the NDU was ever created.

“The number of classes available are shrinking, financial aid is shrinking, and Cal Grants are getting cut,” Donnelly said. “To allow people who are here illegally to have a shot amidst tuition hikes and chancellors and presidents making a fortune with benefits, allowances and pensions is sheer insanity.”

The NDU’s planned tuition price of $2,500 per year was thousands less than other UCLA students would typically pay (more than $14,000 for residents and more than $36,000 for non-residents).

The NDU would have benefitted California students who did not meet the strict AB 540 requirements and have to pay out-of-state tuition for higher education, Castrejon said.

AB 540 is a California state law that allows qualified undocumented students to pay in-state tuition instead of out-of-state tuition at California’s public universities.

“To be eligible for AB 540, students must have completed three years from a California high school, graduated from a California high school, be enrolled in public education and sign an affidavit saying they would adjust their (legal) status as soon as they were able to,” said Nancy Guarneros, teaching team member at the UCLA Labor Center.

AB 540 students will soon be eligible to receive financial aid and scholarships in California once the California DREAM Act takes effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

Carla Zapatos, a former AB 540 student and recent CSUN graduate, knows just how difficult it is to be undocumented and a college student. She majored in Central American studies and worked two jobs to pay for her tuition. She was not eligible to receive any financial aid and could not apply for scholarships because she was undocumented.

“I didn’t feel like I got the same college experience as everyone else,” Zapatos said. “I couldn’t afford to go on trips like my friends. I had to quit the basketball team because I was working and going to school full time.”

Zapatos said since she qualified for AB 540 and felt community college is a cheaper option, she doesn’t think she would chosen to go to the  National Dream University if she were looking to enroll in college now. But, she liked the idea of students avoiding out-of-state fees.

Neither Yudof nor other UCLA representatives were available for comment regarding the program’s cancellation.