Unlike AmeriCorps, the California Service Plan Advantages Residents and the Undocumented


Wendi Lizola was struggling.

The Sacramento State University student had difficulty paying her rent during her freshman 12 months. Lizola grew up in Modesto, the town of 1 / 4 million in the center of California’s agriculturally wealthy central valley, an hour’s drive from Sacramento, however the pre-nursing student was born in Michoacán, Mexico, and is undocumented. 

Although her two older sisters are among the many so-called Dreamers, which implies they’ve work permits, Lizola was only 14 the last time the federal DACA program (Deferred Motion for Children Arrivals) accepted applications, making her ineligible for its advantages. As an undocumented college student, she couldn’t discover a job, much less a meaningful experience for her résumé. 

But relief got here in the shape of a referral from her older sisters, who had heard of a latest statewide program, CollegeCorps, which provides California’s postsecondary students financial aid in exchange for community service. Lizola was thrilled when she learned that undocumented students could join this system. She applied in May, was accepted, and is now in her second 12 months at “Sac State.” Lizola even earns credits for tutoring math 3 times every week at an area middle school. In exchange, the state of California wrote her a check for $10,000, meeting her housing costs and giving the aspiring pediatric nurse invaluable experience working with kids. “I used to be nervous about it because I used to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s middle school students—they’re brutal,’” she recalls. “But surprisingly, I adore it!”

When teachers referred one student to Lizola for math help, Lizola could tell the kid was reluctant to go. But by the tip of their tutoring session, Lizola says, the scholar was far more comfortable with the content—and was already asking if Lizola can be back the following day to assist her again.

“It’s nice to know that they like me and wish to work with me,” she says.

Lizola’s positive experience with CollegeCorps is being replicated widely. This system currently helps greater than 3,200 students in exchange for his or her service, easing their financial pressures and making a small army dedicated to community-centered work, particularly regarding learning gaps in local schools.

CollegeCorps is the brainchild of California’s chief service officer, Josh Fryday, who leads California Volunteers, the governor’s office that oversees the state’s many volunteer programs. After launching successful initiatives just like the California Climate Motion Corps—which combined federal AmeriCorps funding with state revenue to create a paid fellowship for Californians to work with climate-focused organizations—Fryday and his team were trying to scale up their service work. Partnering with the state’s vast higher education network appeared like a ripe opportunity to assist communities and students.

“The message we’re sending is, when you’re willing to serve your community, we’re willing to provide help to pay for faculty,” Fryday says.

CollegeCorps members must commit to 450 hours of community service over an educational 12 months in exchange for $10,000—a sum that was chosen because, for a Pell Grant recipient in California, $10,000 is the expected family contribution after financial aid for a student, who normally meets that gap by borrowing or working. 

Allowing Dreamers to affix CollegeCorps is a big profit. Even with DACA, they can not receive federal financial aid. The federal AmeriCorps Segal Education Award covers $1,600 per student, however the state pays $8,400. For undocumented students, California foots the whole bill. 

Making CollegeCorps work is personal for Fryday, a Pell Grant recipient on the University of California, Berkeley, who worked at a golf course, cleansing carts to pay for the rest of his tuition. But he would quite have done something impactful in San Francisco’s East Bay. 

For Alberto Lara Conejo, a junior pre-nursing student at Cuesta College, his CollegeCorps placement in an after-school program helping struggling students is constructing his communication skills. The Dreamer is grateful that he can receives a commission for work that helps others and helps fuel his education: “I most definitely wouldn’t have been capable of do it if it wasn’t for the financial component,” he says.

Assignments are left to the upper ed institutions, which place CollegeCorps members at partner organizations, normally ones that the varsity works with already. This system must cope with not less than considered one of three urgent challenges facing California: climate motion, food insecurity, or, probably the most common one, education. Corps members not only tutor students but may be enlisted in composting programs or aiding in food distribution centers for low-income Californians. They can even take part in events and development opportunities at “regional hubs,” allowing them to construct an esprit de corps with members from other colleges of their area. The bonding is crucial, hopefully strengthening democracy and weakening tribalism by allowing community members from different regions and schools to interact with each other and embrace their commonalities —very like the military, which Fryday, who served as a naval officer, understands.

In its first 12 months, CollegeCorps is on 46 campuses across the Golden State, from big UCs and CSUs to community colleges and personal schools. The inaugural class is 68 percent Pell eligible, 64 percent first-generation college students, and greater than 80 percent students of color.

Fryday says his office hopes that providing a debt-free pathway for college students will boost graduation rates. The corps leaders and the colleges know that financial troubles often result in a surge in dropout rates between a student’s first and second years.

Governor Gavin Newsom calls CollegeCorps the achievement that makes him “more proud … than anything.” It also helps him politically. The faculty-for-service-work approach threads the political needle for Democrats divided over President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel as much as $20,000 in student loan debt.

CollegeCorps also embodies the vision that Paul Glastris, the Washington Monthly’s editor in chief, specified by “Free College If You Serve,” which argued for a more generous AmeriCorps to provide Pell-eligible members enough to cover a 12 months’s tuition and costs, plus room and board. California is offering students precisely that.

Fryday likens CollegeCorps to military service—an experience that, at its best, helps society and volunteers alike.

“I discuss with this program because the California GI Bill,” Fryday says. “The GI Bill provided opportunities for generations of Americans to get an education and have pathways to the center class because they served their country. That’s what we’re doing.”

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