Payment for college through public service


Photo contributed by California Volunteers’ Twitter Account

Fostering civic engagement: Josh Fryday discussing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s launch of the Civic Action Fellowship.

Aaron Rohrer, Reporter

California Lutheran University is one of eight California higher education institutions that has agreed to take part in the Civic Action Fellowship initiative which aims to help students pay for college through public service. 

This initiative marks the first step in California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s vision for increasing the amount of public service members in the state. The one-of-a-kind program will see the enrollment of nearly 250 AmeriCorps Fellows in the inaugural cohort in the fall of 2020. 

“This grant will enable Cal Lutheran to build on its commitments to service learning and improving our community,” Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball said in a California Volunteers news release. 

Through a combination of state and federal grant funding as well as scholarship funding from private institutions, close to $4 million will be awarded to support the initiative and the student fellows. The fellowship will be available  to current undergraduate and graduate students.

AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government with the ambition of providing humanitarian services to struggling areas within communities nationwide. 

About 25 Cal Lutheran students will become AmeriCorps Fellows to support student success in Ventura County. 

“[They] will serve as mentors, tutors and advisers for low-income and immigrant youths throughout Ventura County, partnering with existing organizations for the important work of improving educational outcomes for at-risk populations,” Kimball said. 

In the fall, fellows will participate in professional development training that will prepare them for their 25 hours-per-week commitment for 22 weeks in the spring. 

Cynthia Duarte, an assistant professor of sociology and director of Cal Lutheran’s Sarah W. Heath Center for Equality and Justice, will lead the program in conjunction with a community engagement specialist who is set to be hired soon.

Cristina Valdivia Aguilar, communications director for California Volunteers, said in an email interview that the program is designed to foster greater civic engagement among youth.

Current participating universities consist of a mix of public and private institutions. Private institutions joining Cal Lutheran in the pilot program include Dominican University and University of the Pacific. Each university has outlined unique local challenges that AmeriCorps fellows will make a commitment towards improving. Other institutions are accepting anywhere from 10 to 47 fellows to address specific issues within their respective counties through volunteer public service commitments. 

“The universities are responsible for designing the Fellows’ service experience in partnership with local nonprofit and public organizations, while integrating civic engagement with their academic work and encouraging four-year completion, graduate school, job placement and an engrained commitment to civic engagement” Aguilar said. 

According to Aguilar, additional institutions have expressed interest in hosting AmeriCorps Fellows in the future. 

 “Living allowances and scholarship awards vary according to the length of time and level of intensity of each student’s service commitment. Distribution of funds occurs throughout the student’s term of service,” Aguilar said.

The terms of service range from one semester to up to one year and students may serve in a part-time or full-time capacity, Aguilar said.

Students involved in the program will take a course that places emphasis on civic engagement and how they can increase social justice within the local community.

“We hope this new partnership with universities will become a model for calling on young people to serve, while helping them pay for college,” Josh Fryday, Chief Service Officer of California Volunteers said. 

Cal Lutheran has had several other programs promoting and implementing service learning, both in course requirements and beyond. This new initiative falls in line with university-wide goals and commitments to developing a desire for public service commitments in its students.