UCLA Institute Creates Controversial ‘University’ for Illegal Immigrants

by Alex Jakubowski - Northwestern on August 22, 2012

Earlier this month the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, a division of the UCLA Institute for Research and Labor and Employment, and the National Labor College announced their new educational partnership program—National Dream University. National Dream University was created with the goal of inspiring undocumented students to break into the higher education world.

The program, six online course credits transferable to any university that will accept the credits, will cost the thirty-five accepted students $2490, as opposed to standard UCLA in-state tuition of $12,686.  Several of the classes will be staffed by UCLA professors, while others will be taught by notable liberal activists such as Reverend James Lawson and Tom Hayden.  While currently only a one-year program is available, Project Coordinator Alma Castrejon hopes that they will be able to offer Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees in the near future.

The idea to make education available to struggling young undocumented students is nothing new. Last year five university professors in the state of Georgia formed Freedom University, a one year program aimed at providing opportunities for undocumented students to break into higher education.  While not officially accredited or state funded, Freedom University offers students the opportunity to prepare for college, regardless of their immigration status.

According to CRLE Director and former attorney for the Service Employees International Union Kent Wong, the program’s goal is to “give undocumented students in particular the opportunity to learn about labor rights, and possibly become involved in social justice movements.”

For students to be accepted, however, they must have already shown commitment to these causes.  According to their website, in order to be considered for admission students must have graduated from high school, maintained a 2.7 GPA, and “have demonstrated activism within the immigrant rights community, or the labor rights movement.”

While many private universities offer highly directed and politically-oriented programs for their students, National Dream University has drawn scrutiny due to its relationship with UCLA, a public university funded by the State of California.

While the State of California cut off direct funding for the IRLE in 2007, since then the organization has survived on a combination public funding from the University of California school system, the US Department of Labor ($220,000), the California Department of Industrial Relations ($355,000), and the City of Los Angeles ($50,000) as well as private donations from large left-wing unions and political organizations.  Some of these include the Ford Foundation ($1.2 million), the Open Society Institute ($176,000) and SEIU ($12,000).

Despite the organizational oversight of UCLA over the IRLE and its subsidiary groups under the Division of Social Sciences, IRLE Director Chris Tilly claims he never consulted with his superiors on the issue of the National Dream University.

Some undocumented students who would otherwise be attracted to this type of entry program could be turned off by the political directive.  One undocumented UCLA student, Seth Ronquillo, in fact noted to his school’s newspaper that while he supported the program’s overall goal of offering educational opportunities to undocumented students, the “curriculum’s focus on labor rights is a deterrent” for him because he wants to explore other subject areas.  Nevertheless, many immigration experts see labor as a critical partner for the advancement of undocumented students.

According to Dr. Jaime Dominguez, a professor of Political Science and minority rights expert at Northwestern University “as with any immigration progressive legislation, labor is the key pillar in maintaining support, as well as for its implementation.” Still, with taxpayers on the hook for much of the cost many worry about National Dream University’s true intentions for its graduates.

Fix Contributor Alex Jakubowski is a junior at Northwestern.

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