Recently, I had the privilege of swearing in the first-ever College Corps Scholars, a legion of more than 3,000 students on nearly 50 college and university campuses who are committed to supplementing their education with community service.
In return for their services, California is offering $10,000 per school year to help each of them pursue a debt-free education. For those from low-income families, it is enough to meet the personal financial obligation expected of Pell Grant recipients, a financial gap most often filled by student loans.
College Corps is more than just a government program. With these new fellows, the California Service Corps is expected to be larger than the U.S. Peace Corps four years from now.
A system of service – no rights
College Corps is not a right. Students will receive $10,000 in exchange for 450 hours of service. They will also receive training and professional development while earning academic credit for their experience.
In their service, these students will be exposed to a range of meaningful career options they could pursue – teaching, jobs in the clean energy economy, or working in our vital food systems.
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Many Fellows will dedicate their service to tutoring students in K-12 schools, providing the kind of one-on-one instruction President Joe Biden has called for in his National Partnership for Student Success initiative. For children still recovering from learning interrupted during the pandemic, giving them the chance to interact with a student and a mentor can be life changing.
Other College Corps members will dedicate their service to climate actions helping our state achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, or improving the fire resistance of our landscapes, or fighting food insecurity by serving in food banks. or food distribution centers.
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The entire California higher education system participates in this program – community colleges, California State University, University of California and private institutions. In some areas, schools have come together to form alliances that bring together students from urban and rural campuses.
Rebuilding the link with education
That’s a big part of what it’s all about – connecting people to each other. We must find ways to restore the social contract between government and its citizens. That’s what College Corps stands for. It’s a contract that says that if you work hard and dedicate yourself to serving others, you will be rewarded with opportunities.
And in the process, you’ll meet people from other walks of life, work with them towards a common goal, and hopefully develop a common understanding.
This is how we build the ties that unite a society. As supporters of pluralism and diversity, we must also promote our community and our shared humanity. That’s the big idea behind College Corps. A reminder and reaffirmation of the things that connect us to each other.
Middle ground :We meet every week for lunch and talk politics. We don’t always agree. But we are still civilians.
We all know the stakes are high. The American experience — the radical notion that a country can bind together not just because of common origin or ancestry, but shared ideals and common purpose — is in jeopardy.
Today, our country appears more divided than ever. We feel disconnected from each other, and this lack of common understanding is reflected in our increasingly toxic policies.
College Corps is an antidote to this crisis of isolation and division, a down payment on rebuilding our society and preserving our democracy.
And I sincerely believe that this relatively modest investment can not only change lives but also change the way we live.
As Bobby Kennedy said, “This bond of common faith, this bond of common purpose, can surely begin to teach us something. …And surely we can begin to work a little harder to heal the wounds between us and become brothers and fellow countrymen in our own hearts again.
Gavin Newsom is Governor of California, former Lieutenant Governor of California and former Mayor of San Francisco.