One of Sweetwater Union High School District superintendent Ed Brand’s pet projects suffered a setback at the hands of National City planning commissioners on the night of August 5.
Brand’s idea to establish Alliant International University on the grounds of the National City Adult School met resistance by the commissioners, who voted unanimously to return to the agenda item on September 16.
In order to proceed with the plan, the district needed the planning commission to grant a conditional use permit to allow Alliant University to share property dedicated to National City Adult School. The setback was unanticipated, as Brand has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Alliant and begun to enroll students for the fall semester.
A number of speakers opposed changing the conditional use permit. One speaker, Michelle Krug, pointed out that the Adult Education Center was constructed with redevelopment money and that taxypayers had paid for an adult education building, not a private university.
Brian Clapper, a member of the National City Chamber of Commerce, reminded the commissioners that not long ago the Sweetwater district had fostered the opportunity for Sweetwater students to enroll in Grand Canyon University — a for-profit religious school.
Many speakers addressed the issue of student debt. Commissioner Allie Pruitt led the rebuff. The original intent of establishing the adult education center, she said, was to provide a safety net for students in National City who are having a hard time getting their high-school diplomas. She asked the Alliant representative, “Why would a growing university perch in a small community like National City?… Why rob our children of their future?”
Dr. Guadalupe Corona, director of Alliant’s Latino Achievement Initiative, fielded the questions from commissioners. She assured them that Alliant was not a for-profit university and that students would not accumulate debt because Pell Grants, Cal Grants, scholarships, and incentives for Sweetwater graduates would be available.
After the vote was taken, when Corona was in the foyer, she responded to additional questions. Corona repeated what she said to commissioners: that there was a lot of “free money available to students.” She said that about 10 students had already been recruited, perhaps 30 more were in the pipeline, and that a lot of recruiting was done through websites and by phone. When asked who was doing the calling, Corona said she was doing some and people from Promise Neighborhood were doing some.
Promise Neighborhood is a multimillion dollar federal grant administrated by South Bay Community Services, a nonprofit agency that provides the area with many social services.
In an August 6 interview, Kathryn Lembo, CEO of South Bay Community Services, said Promise Neighborhood was not recruiting for Alliant. She said the grant, which was modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, is intended to foster education from “cradle to career.” She said academic advocates from the program contacted families in the catchment areas, which includes some Sweetwater schools, to advise them of post-secondary opportunities and to help them with financial barriers.
She said, “We were not doing outreach [for Alliant]; we just got all the new information on Alliant in July…it was an opportunity for an early college program free to the students. We wanted to let people know that Hilltop High School and Olympian High School were going to provide general education courses that were free and the fall classes start August 26. Lembo also said, “We only called houses where children who were 12th- or l1th-graders lived.”
Meanwhile, it seems the Sweetwater district intends to offer Alliant classes on high school campuses this fall: a flier about the cost of the classes states that “Alliant has reduced the cost of tuition for our district…BUT the district has obtained sponsors so the cost of tuition is FREE.”
Reached for a comment, Sweetwater district trustee Bertha Lopez said on August 6 that Brand never advised the board that classes would be held on high-school campuses for 11th- and 12th-graders. “It doesn’t surprise me," she said. "Dr. Brand’s implementation of these projects always lack planning, but he knows he can count on three votes on the board.”
(revised 8/7 8 a.m.)