Published July 31, 2012
| Associated Press
Last year, Georgia lawmakers mulled a bill that would have barred undocumented immigrants from attending college. A group of college professors then banded together to offer those students an education.
Now a similar effort to Freedom University, as it was called, is going national.
A project called National Dream University, mirrored after the Georgia effort, is being formed in California. It’s a collaboration between the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Labor Research and Education and the National Labor College.
It aims to offer online courses for college credit to young immigrant and labor rights activists who want to attend college.
The project was inspired by an effort last year in Georgia to reach out to undocumented immigrant students barred from area universities and President Obama's decision to grant temporary work permits to many young undocumented immigrants.
In Georgia, five professors offered to teach a rigorous, once-a-week seminar that would have mirrored courses taught at academically-rigorous Georgia schools. It was meant for Georgia students who graduated from high school but barred from attending a top state school because of Georgia state education policy, which was later dropped.
"Students are getting motivated, they're having a newfound sense of hope they can go to college," said Alma Castrejon, the project's coordinator. "If they're not having this opportunity in their home state, they need someone to provide that."
About 35 students will be accepted to take six courses in 2013 on topics such as labor history and nonviolence and social movements, Castrejon said. Anyone interested in immigrant and labor rights can apply whether they have legal status or not, she said.
The year's coursework will cost $2,490. Students will be required to travel to Maryland and California at the beginning and end of the year but will complete their coursework and assignments online.
Applications are due Oct. 5.
Lisa Garcia-Bedolla, associate professor at University of California, Berkeley's graduate school of education, said she thought the program would draw students who couldn't otherwise afford to go to school because of rising tuition costs, living expenses and the difficulty of keeping a job while taking classes.
"I think people will take advantage of it because it's the only option for them," she said.
Jonathan Perez, an undocumented immigrant student activist, said the topics appear geared to students who are involved in immigrant rights work, many who are likely already seeking a higher education.
Castrejon said students who complete the program will receive a certificate and can transfer the credits. If the program succeeds, it might be expanded to a two- or four-year degree, she said.