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California Initiative To Pay College Students For Service: Just The Facts

February 21, 2020 Erin Sweeney

Shutterstock_176322620  Team of young volunteers picking up litter in the park

California Volunteers, a state agency that coordinates civic action programs, has announced a pilot program, The Civic Action Fellowship, that will pay students up to $10,000 in tuition dollars for community service. This program is part of a state-wide initiative to encourage citizens to give back to their communities and to tackle local and regional challenges. Eight California universities and approximately 250 students will take part in the first-in-the-nation tuition reimbursement civic action initiative, beginning in the fall of 2020.

How Will The California Civic Action Fellowship Work?

California college students participating in the Civic Action Fellowship Program will spend one semester working for a nonprofit or government agency. Eligible students will sign up as Americorp Fellows and earn college credits in addition to tuition dollars. A California Office of the Governor press release states the service program “will be tailored toward students’ academic curriculum while encouraging four-year completion, graduate school, job placement and an engrained commitment to civic engagement.” For students considering eligible universities, the offer of tuition assistance could impact their higher education decisions. A mix of public and private universities will participate in the Civic Action Fellowship. California Lutheran University, Dominican University of California and University of the Pacific are the private institutions; California State University's campuses at Los Angeles and Stanislaus and San José State University and the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Merced are the public universities in the pilot.

What Are The Potential Challenges With The California Civic Action Fellowship?

The Civic Action Fellowship Program is designed after Dominican University’s scholarship program, Reimagining Citizenship. Each university in the program will target a critical need in its community, such as health and nutrition education, educational mentoring for underserved youth, financial literacy or climate action, and facilitate a collaboration with the appropriate state government organization or community nonprofit. With many diverse partners collaborating in the initiative, administrative challenges are anticipated. Mojgan Behmand, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Dominican University, has also encouraged collaboration between the participating universities. Behmand said, “We want to connect students across institutions, share syllabi, use our planning grants to train each other and share what we are doing with our colleagues.”

Could The Civic Action Fellowship Program Become A Model For Higher Education?

California Volunteers will administer the Civic Action Fellowship Program with $3.2 million in state and federal funds. An additional $677,000 will be paid out to Civic Action Fellowship participants in tuition assistance following the completion of their commitments. California is the first state to use general funds to support education awards in this manner. If the state is successful in scaling participation, the Civic Action Fellowship Program could become a model for other universities across California and the nation, creating competition for state and federal funds.

Civic action initiatives, such as the California Civic Action Fellowship Program, have the potential to benefit students, universities and communities. According to an in-depth study on college students by authors Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, Gen Z students, “have a thoughtful worldview and want to engage in service that has a tangible and lasting impact on systematic and structural problems.” Higher education marketers will be watching the outcomes of this pilot, and many will consider new programs and strategies to compete for today’s civic-minded students and the tuition dollars that civic action initiatives could bring.  

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About the Author

Erin Sweeney

Erin Sweeney is a freelance writer and professional educator. Throughout her 12 years of experience in secondary education, she has taught advanced composition, business communications and research methodology. Erin has a keen interest in psychology and the science of motivation. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from Saint Anselm College and a Master’s in Education from Plymouth State University. Through research and writing, Erin contributes to DMS Insights with informative articles surrounding the digital and performance marketing industries.

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