Fresno-area college students can get $10,000 for community service under new program

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San Joaquin Valley college students will soon be able to participate in a new community service program aimed at helping them pay for college and reducing the amount of debt they take on.

Fresno State, Fresno City College and University of California, Merced were among 45 schools selected Tuesday for a new state-funded program aimed at eliminating college debt for California students who serve their communities.

The California College Corps will give students who do 450 hours of service work in a year $10,000.

The service work they do could include tutoring younger students and helping at food banks. For example, participating students from the University of the Pacific will tutor students in Stockton, where literacy rates and math scores are low, Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities President Kristen Soares said.

“It will make a difference for students, and most importantly it will make college more affordable for those who need support the most,” Soares said. “It is going to inspire a generation to serve.”

Josh Fryday, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief service officer, compared the program to the G.I. Bill, which paid for college for Americans who served in World War II. The College Corps aims to do the same for students who commit to serving their community. Undocumented students brought to the U.S. as children will also be eligible to participate in the program, Fryday said. As many as 6,500 students will be able to participate over two years.

Newsom heralded the full launch of the $146 million program and used it to contrast California with the federal government, saying “Washington is where things go to die.” He argued that through this program, California can serve as a model for how to heal some of its political divisions by bringing young people from different backgrounds together to build up their community.

“If I were an autocrat, if I could decide the fate and future of this country, I would demand that all of us have some compulsory service, shared experiences,” Newsom said. “We don’t have shared experiences anymore.”

Ian Chavez, a computer science student at San Jose State University, has worked with kids in undeserved communities through a pilot version of the program, teaching them to code and hopefully spurring their interest in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. He said he uses the money he earns for tuition and groceries.

“If someone pursues a STEM major and helps diversify the industry at the expense of several hours of my time, then I think that’s an amazing exchange,” he said.

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