CORRECTION: Multimedia journalist Sarina Sandoval spoke to a first generation student who is involved in the Californians For All College Corps program. The video has been updated to clarify that the student attended Cal State LA, rather than UCLA. Click the arrow to watch.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Students at 45 colleges and universities will be able to earn $10,000 toward their degrees by volunteering for the new Californians For All College Corps program. Announced Tuesday, the first volunteer program of its kind in the country will be available to 6,500 students at a variety of schools, including University of California, California State University and California Community College campuses, as well as a handful of private schools.
“Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about what the hell is going on in this country and what’s going on around the rest of the world with the rise of populism and the assault on our democratic institutions,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during an impassioned online announcement of the program. “We’ve got to find some commonality. That’s the fundamental point here. It’s about finding responsibility in relationship to others. We don’t have shared experiences anymore.”
Funded with $146 million the state legislature invested in 2021 to expand service opportunities throughout the state, the College Corps has three stated goals: Engaging college students in meaningful service opportunities that build leadership skills and civic responsibility; helping students from diverse backgrounds graduate college on time and with less debt; and supporting the work of community-based organizations focused on key local priorities.
Students who are selected to volunteer as College Corps fellows will work with organizations supporting K-12 education, climate action and food insecurity. Each participant will serve a total of 450 hours over a full academic year.
The first round of students will begin their years of service this fall. So-called dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, are eligible for the program through AB 540, the California bill Gov. Gray Davis signed in 2001 to allow undocumented students access to in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities.
Each college or university will recruit and select students to volunteer for the College Corps, working with local nonprofits and local governments. Participating campuses’ applications are expected to be available in March.
“California is, and always should be, a place where education turns dreams into reality, where people from all backgrounds and walks of life can succeed, where we use our talents to make the world a better place. That’s the California dream, and the dream of Californians For All College Corps,” said University of California President Michael Drake. “Providing an affordable, world-class education that’s rooted in public service has always been at the heart of our mission.”
Seven of the nine University of California campuses were selected to participate in the California For All College Corps. About 35% of UC undergraduates rely on Pell Grants to help pay for their education, Drake said.
The $10,000 students will earn in return for volunteering is roughly equal to the amount a California student would receive in a Pell Grant, without the need to take on debt or work while they are in school. For many College Corps participants, their volunteer work will receive academic credit.
“We are making it clear that here in California, like the GI bill, if you are willing to serve your community and give back in a meaningful way, we are going to help you pay for college,” said California’s Chief Services Officer, Josh Fryday, calling the program a “win-win-win-win.”
It’s a win for students, he said, because they earn money to learn valuable skills in real-world settings that expose them to possible career paths. It’s a win for universities because it keeps students engaged and on track to graduate on time while reducing their financial stress.
It helps communities by providing critical services. And it’s a win for society, which benefits from a new generation of civic-minded leaders learning to work together across different backgrounds towards a common purpose.
The program is currently slated to run for two academic years, from August 2022 to July 2023 and August 2023 to June 2024.
“If this thing works, we can go back to the legislature, take it to a whole other level. Take it to the rest of the country,” Newsom said.
“We need to activate the citizenship, and not by voting every two years. Citizenship is what happens in between elections,” he added. “I hope what we’re seeding is different kinds of engagement, different kinds of citizenship to address the issue of tribalism, this sort of freedom gospel, head on by making people feel connected to one another. We rise and we fall together.”