In a ceremony earlier this month, 98 UC Berkeley students were sworn in as first-class volunteers under CollegeCorps, a new state program that pays $10,000 to high-income students low and medium to complete 450 hours of community service.
Volunteers will dedicate eight to ten hours per week to a local organization they are matched with in the areas of K-12 education, climate change, food insecurity, and youth and health behavioral. In exchange, students will receive a $7,000 stipend and a $3,000 scholarship to cover tuition.
Touted as an innovative way to reduce student debt while providing volunteer labor and fostering civic engagement, the program is piloting an alternative model to President Biden’s federal debt relief. At the Texas Tribune Festival in September, Newsom said he was “probably more proud of [College Corps] than anything I’ve been involved in.
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond spoke at the swearing-in ceremony, broadcast live from UC Berkeley’s Haviland Hall, describing how he had to work the night shift at jobs on minimum wage all through college and missing school when the money ran out. , delaying his graduation.
“That’s why I love college for all bodies. It’s an opportunity for you to earn money while you serve and while you learn,” Thurmond said. “But we want you to finish your education and go on to do all the great things you’re going to do while you serve in our communities as well.”
In its first year, 3,200 students from 46 California campuses will participate in the College Corps program.
Most CollegeCorps volunteers are first-generation college students, the majority receive Pell grants, and 18 are California Dreamers. Because the program does not involve federal dollars, it can include undocumented students, providing debt relief to a group often excluded from financial aid opportunities.
Partner organizations include the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity in Oakland, which works in clean energy and water, and the Harriet Tubman Early Childhood Center in West Oakland.
Mukt Kaur Sandhu, a 20-year-old third-year student at Cal, will spend his volunteer scholarship at Berkeley Unified’s office of sustainability, excited to put environmental theory into action.
“What I missed in my environmental classes was just the practice. We talked about sustainability, waste, landfill emissions, and I felt ready to get out there and do something in the world,” they said.
Brooke Cartolano is a 32-year-old first-generation student who plans to apply to law school next year, hoping to work in education law or as an ad litem tutor. Having had her daughter when she was still a teenager, Cartolano still has to pinch herself to graduate from UC Berkeley. She has long worked in restaurants to make ends meet, but College Corps frees her to work with children.
“I just needed a little extra money. And now I can do that by serving my community, instead of serving yuppies in beer gardens,” Cartolano said.
The program pays roughly minimum wage, which means most students still consider working part-time to make ends meet.
“I’m also going to have to work a part-time job, in addition to being a full-time student and doing service, but it’s better than nothing,” Kaur Sandhu said. “I wish that in the future the state could allocate even more money to the program. I think that would be amazing.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Mukt Kaur Sandhu’s name.