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California program will pay college kids $10,000 for a year of volunteer work—and it could be 'replicated across the nation'

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Royce Hall on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Al Seib | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the expansion of a pilot program that will cover $10,000 of tuition costs at 45 California colleges and universities for students who do 450 hours of community service. 

The "Californians For All College Corps" will cover college costs for 6,500 students beginning during the fall 2022 semester. The $146 million cost was approved as part of last year's state budget.

"California is a world leader in both higher education and service," said Governor Newsom in a statement. "The #CaliforniansForAll College Corps advances these priorities by connecting Californians of different backgrounds with enriching service opportunities throughout the state while making college more affordable for our state's future leaders. We hope the Corps will be replicated across the nation."

Students, including undocumented "Dreamers" who qualify for in-state tuition, can volunteer in "critical issue areas" such as "climate action, K-12 education and Covid-19 recovery" for one year through the program.

Participating schools include seven of the 10 University of California campuses (such as UC Berkeley and UCLA), 16 of the 23 California State University schools (such as Cal State Long Beach) as well as a range of community colleges and private institutions.

"The California State University students who participated in the pilot program over the past year took their world-class CSU education and translated that into on-the-ground tutoring and mentoring in their communities," said California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. "This program is an invaluable opportunity for our students to not only give back to their communities, but also to help prepare the next generation of CSU students for success. We look forward to even greater opportunities for the students selected through the inaugural year of the Corps." 

The initiative was also framed as a tool to address the issue of student debt in California — a state that is home to nearly 4 million of the country's 43 million student loan borrowers. 

"The University of California is pleased to partner with Governor Newsom on this innovative program, which will help thousands of students pay for college while they give back to their communities," said University of California President Michael V. Drake. "Providing more pathways to a debt-free degree while empowering students to pursue service-oriented career paths is a reflection of our shared commitment to access, affordability, and public service."

On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden proposed creating a program that offers $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years.

While such a program was not implemented during his first year in office, Biden did use executive authority to make significant changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that are estimated to bring over 550,000 borrowers an average of 23 payments closer to loan forgiveness and make 22,000 borrowers immediately entitled to the cancellation. 

Overall, the Biden Administration has approved approximately $9.5 billion of student loan relief — a significant, but still relatively small, percentage of the over $1.7 trillion worth of student loans that Americans still collectively owe. 

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