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Dream University a step toward equalizing access to education for undocumented students

By mary clark

Aug. 13, 2012 6:13 a.m.

Isaac Arjonilla

Caught in the middle of ongoing debate, the National Dream University ““ an online education program for undocumented students co-founded by a UCLA institute ““ has garnered considerable negative media attention since its announcement.

Juliet Huddy of Fox News described the program as a “perverted way of doing things” that would impose a penalty on students who are citizens or residents. Others might think that the Dream University has too lofty of a name for an online certificate program.

But the program should instead be seen for what it is ““ a practical, non-political solution to a very real issue. Thousands of individuals have the qualifications to attend college but lack access.

The certificate program offers an avenue through which students can receive 18 units of college credit for less than half the price of the equivalent course load at a University of California campus.

Once we move past the misguided talking points of pundits like Huddy, we can see that the Dream University could help lower the barriers facing undocumented students in higher education. Although this is a tall order for an Internet-based program, it is a sensible starting point.

Anywhere between 65,000 and 80,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools in the U.S. every year, said Kent Wong, the director of the Labor Center at UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Many Americans still consider these students “illegal,” arguing that they should be barred from higher education and financial aid because of their citizenship status.

These students complete the same coursework in the same schools as U.S. citizens, and are no less deserving of accessible and affordable higher education. Still, they are left behind when applications for college hit the desks of their peers ““ only three states offer these students financial aid and only 12, including California, offer in-state tuition.

For these reasons, the important ““ albeit small ““ step taken by the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education and the National Labor College should not be hastily viewed with skepticism and judgment.

For the upcoming fall quarter, the online program will accept around 35 students, said Daniel Katz, dean of Labor Studies at the National Labor College. The small size of the class may appear negligible, but funding for an endeavor like this doesn’t come easily, especially in the program’s inception stage.

“We are hoping to expand the numbers as soon as we have the funding. This is just the beginning,” Katz said.

Of course, an online program is not as costly as one in a classroom, but professors must still be paid, and each course includes two weekend conferences during which students meet each other and their professors.

For each student, 18 units of credit will cost $2,490, which is over $1,500 less than a quarter at UCLA for in-state students and more than $9,000 less than out-of-state tuition.

Though still more expensive than community college, the online classes allow students to work full time while enrolled and are accessible from anywhere.

Additionally, the completion of this program grants students a certificate in labor studies, which will help students who are seeking jobs in labor unions, even without completing the rest of a four-year degree, Wong said.

So although the courses available through the National Dream University lack the same amount of peer and professor interaction as a regular classroom setting, the decreased cost, increased accessibility and a certificate applicable to a union job will hopefully draw students who may otherwise not have been able to afford or attend college.

This program is one of the only options available to undocumented youth living in hostile states like Georgia, whose lawmakers sought out undocumented students and removed them from the universities in which they were already enrolled.

This program is obviously not a cure ““ it won’t reach everyone who lacks sufficient income and opportunity to receive a higher education, and it won’t change the negative attitudes many hold against undocumented students.

But it will set the ball rolling so that in the future undocumented students who have graduated from high school in the United States will receive the same benefits as documented students in terms of higher education opportunities.

The National Dream University holds the potential to eliminate the distinction between undocumented students and documented students.

Does this university fulfil the “dream?” Maybe not, but it’s the first step towards towards reaching it.

Email Clark at [email protected] . Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion .

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