California Launches Community Service Scholarship Program

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California has launched a program to reduce education debt for low-income students.

The California College Corps program, enacted by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newson, will provide $10,000 to eligible students who complete at least 450 community service hours. The funds can be used to pay either tuition or living expenses.

Students participating in the program will engage in various civic-minded volunteer activities over the course of an academic year, meaning they will each have approximately 15 hours of community service each week. The volunteer activities include those that help address food insecurity, climate change, and education inequity. Nearly half of the first cohort will spend their volunteer hours tutoring students in low-income K-12 schools to address education gaps brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Instead of working at a restaurant or a cafe, now you’re going to have the chance to tutor, mentor, take climate action, go to food banks and do other important work,” Josh Fryda, California’s chief service officer, told The New York Times. “We really think this is an exciting and unique model, and it’s a model that we hope gets emulated by other states and around the country.”

The inaugural corps comprised approximately 3,200 students from 46 college campuses throughout the state, 500 of whom are undocumented and qualify for in-state tuition under the California Dream Act. The program is especially critical in assisting undocumented students, given that their citizenship status disqualifies them from similar federal service programs.

Sixty-eight percent of the participants are Pell Grant eligible, 64 percent are first-generation college students, and over 80 percent are students of color.

Of the fall class, about half of the students are tutors or mentors in K-12 education, about 28 percent are working to address food insecurity, and 22 percent are addressing climate action.