California Will Pay College Kids for Community Work

New Program Helps Students Avoid Debt, Do Meaningful Work

In a brand-new program, the first of its kind in the United States, California is offering college students $10,000 in pay and scholarship funding in exchange for 450 hours of community service work.

Students can apply at or with help from counselors at the 48 colleges and universities across the state that are enrolled in the #CaliforniansforAll College Corps program, a list that includes the entire UC and CSU systems, community colleges and some private schools as well.

A total of 6,500 students will be accepted to start in the fall, with preference given to those from low-income circumstances. “Dreamers” – AB540-eligible students who arrived in the U.S. as children – are eligible to apply.

The program offers a total of $7,000 in regular paychecks — more than $15 per hour for the work requirement – and, upon completion, a $3,000 grant for tuition or other education-related costs.

For those 6,500 students, rather than having to drive for a ride-share company or work in a local mall, “this groundbreaking program allows them to pursue programs dedicated to climate change, K-12 education or COVID recovery while serving in their own communities,” said Regina Wilson, executive director of California Black Media at a May 12 news conference announcing the program.

“They earn money and academic credit at the same time.” The news briefing was co-hosted by Ethnic Media Services.

“We really see this program as being a win-win-win,” said Josh Fryday, California Chief Service Officer, who oversees California Volunteers, the governor’s office responsible for creating service, volunteer and civic engagement opportunities in California.

Students get meaningful, paid work in their communities, tailored to align with their educational goals. Service providers get help in doing their valuable work, and communities get the benefit of those increased efforts, Fryday explained.

“Our students are going to be focused on three main areas serving in their community,” he said. “One is around climate action. We’re going to see students doing everything from planting trees to helping compost and with fire mitigation across the state.”

“We’re also going to be seeing our students focus on food insecurity, which we know drastically increased during COVID,” he said, pointing out that “one of the biggest needs that food banks have is for volunteers.”

Thirdly, he said, “our young people, especially in our low-income schools, are facing increased education disparities, with learning loss as a result of COVID. So, many of these (College Corps) students are going to be tutors and mentors in our low-income schools.”

The program is open to 6,500 students – a number equal to the entire U.S. Peace Corps program — Fryday said, but “our intention is to ultimately scale this program to more students, more universities, and hopefully be something that becomes a model for the entire country.”

“Several of our universities are targeting freshmen,” he added, “because we know that first year is really the critical year where either students are able to stay in school and stay on track, or, because of financial burdens or other reasons, end up delaying their education.”

Lindsay Fox, president and CEO of United Way in Fresno and Madera counties, spoke of how the program is intended to help “close the racial wealth gap.”

“We’ve identified furthering education, higher education and skills training as one of the key, core ways we are going to get generational wealth and advance prosperity. We believe that higher education is a pathway to that,” she said.

But, she said, “we are seeing college enrollment rates, particularly in community colleges, go down significantly. In Fresno, we are seeing really significant dips in enrollment for people of color, particularly black men.”

“So a program like College Corps removes the financial barriers that might be in place.”

“We really have to come back to the humanity of who we are, and why we were put on this earth, quite frankly. It is not to be in service of ourselves, it’s to be in service of others, where we find the greatest version of ourselves.”

And, she added, “we get the additional benefit of just creating better community service.”

The benefits of community service extend beyond its clients.

Ia Moua, who arrived as a refugee from Vietnam when she was 9, now oversees the California AmeriCorps program, the nation’s largest, in her work for California Volunteers.

She described how her work for the Summer Bridge program, tutoring children while she was in college, changed her sense of personal identity, from a Hmong-speaking outsider living in a foreign land to a full-fledged “proud American.”

“I gained a new sense of community,” she said.

“My family escaped persecution from the Vietnam War and resettled in the United States as refugees. Our early days of survival depended on the support of public assistance and my very own personal and professional growth was shaped by the selfless act of teachers and mentors who guided me as I adapted and learned to navigate life in a new country.”

“This incredible privilege gave us a second chance at life,” she said.

Upon arriving from Kansas to study at San Jose State University, Fernando Martinez, 22, participated in a pilot program for College Corps, the Civic Action Fellows Program.

“I was looking for ways to be involved within my campus and my new community,” he said. “This provided me with both.”

The financial assistance helped provide time and energy to focus on his classes, he said, and provide computer programming enrichment for underserved children.

“It’s through this program that I learned firsthand how much local school communities are lacking in areas like technology, and access to those STEM-related careers,” he said, and the opportunity to help other kids growing up in similar situations to myself.”

“For me, the most meaningful part of the fellowship is the genuine connections I’ve made with the children I mentor, to inspire to pursue STEM, and get excited for college. You can see their creativity spark up in different ways that they didn’t know they could.”

“I cannot imagine not reapplying for the College Corps.”

By Mark Hedin

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