New California program helps dreamers in limbo pay for college with jobs

College student
UC Davis College Corps member Yusbely Delgado Medrano speaks during a Scholars Swearing-In Ceremony in Sacramento on Oct. 7. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

Natalia Angeles always knew she was going to college despite being undocumented, so giving up the chance to attend a four-year college right out of high school wasn’t easy. But when acceptance came from the University of California, Riverside, she soon realized that without being able to work legally, she couldn’t afford to attend.

“I didn’t know what resources to look for when it came to helping me with school and stuff,” Angeles said. “And then when I noticed that UC Riverside wasn’t the perfect fit for me financially, I decided to just do community college.”

Angeles attended East Los Angeles College, then eventually transferred to Long Beach State. A local nonprofit helped Angeles, a skilled photographer, find work taking portraits for $45 each. She uses the money to cover her personal expenses, but does not know how she will earn money to pay for her studies in the future.

Working part-time — or even full-time — is an important part of many students’ college plans, especially as the cost of living in California continues to rise. But California’s roughly 75,000 undocumented students aren’t eligible for federal co-op programs or most job opportunities, and many are struggling to make ends meet.

A new public service program launching this month, #CaliforniansForAll College Corps, will give hundreds of them the opportunity to earn money for college while doing community service. It’s the latest in a number of California efforts to help undocumented students pay for their education.

College Corps Fellows will learn from community organizations, undertake projects in public schools, fight food insecurity, and fight climate change. Fellows receive up to $10,000 for completing one year of service, which includes a living allowance and scholarship.

“Our overall goal is to get more people involved in service and to have more people working in the community to solve big problems,” said Josh Fryday, director of California services, whose office runs College. Body.

With 3,200 vacancies, College Corps has hosted approximately 570 scholarship recipients who are AB 540 California Dream Act students, meaning they do not have legal residency in California but attended high school here and are eligible for resident tuition. It was launched the same week that a federal appeals court ruled that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that grants work permits and protection from deportation to certain undocumented student arrivals in the country as children violated immigration law.

Ongoing legal battles over DACA have increased stress for undocumented students. In a 2020 survey of about 1,300 undocumented college students in California, 96% said they worried about not having enough money to pay for things, with 60% worrying most of the time, almost always or always.

“Historically, unfortunately, the service has excluded people. We hope with this program that the message we are sending from California is clear that we truly appreciate our Dreamers,” Fryday said. “We know how much they can help make this world a better place for all of us.”

Yusbely Delgado, a student at the University of California, Davis, told CalMatters how grateful she is for opportunities like College Corps. Delgado wanted to be a pediatrician since high school, but during her sophomore year, she says, her father told her she might not be able to because of her immigration status. Delgado persisted, taking advanced placement courses and applying for DACA.

“I had planned my whole life,” she said.

Then, just before starting at UC Davis, a federal judge blocked new applicants from the DACA program. Delgado applied for a job on campus after learning that they were accepting AB 540 students like her. But after going through training, she says, she learned she wasn’t eligible.

“It was a very upsetting time,” she said.

As one of the 2022-2023 College Corps Scholars, Delgado is currently creating a program for sixth graders at local schools. “Our mission is to encourage low-income students to go to college,” she said.

Before California implemented policies to support undocumented students who wanted to attend college, students had to find creative ways to pay for their education, said Eric Yang, coordinator of the undocumented student program at the University. UC Riverside. These included crowdfunding and finding private scholarships that did not require citizenship.

“It was basically the wild Wild West, where everyone was kind of alone,” he said. “Even though a lot of people were going through the same thing, there just wasn’t enough unification in institutions and in the state.”

This changed dramatically with the passage of Assembly Bill 540 in 2001, exempting certain students who attended California high schools but were not legal residents of California from paying nonresident tuition in public universities. The California Dream Act of 2011 made these same students eligible for state financial aid.

Yet undocumented students still struggle financially. Centers for undocumented students at universities work with local nonprofits and their own institutions to spread information about career opportunities through flyers, social media, or simply word of mouth.

“Some (undocumented students) will pay out of pocket, with potential work under the table,” Yang said.

In 2019, the California Student Aid Commission launched the California Dream Act Service Incentive Grant program, allowing low-income California Dream Act students with a minimum high school GPA of 2.00 to perform community service and receive up to $2,250 per semester.

The program had room for 2,500 students, but only 100 had enrolled as of fall 2021, according to a report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. The pandemic has disrupted service opportunities and students may have sought out higher-paying gigs, the report said. This program is now merging with College Corps.

College Corps intended to work with trusted messengers to reach the undocumented community, Fryday said.

“We did a lot of outreach in multiple languages,” he said. “We did a lot of media and specific interviews in Spanish to make sure we reached the parents of these students, which we found to be a very effective way of motivating the students.”

College Corps hopes to use its success as leverage to get the state legislature to expand the program to more college campuses, Fryday said.

Delgado said it’s sometimes difficult to navigate the maze of career preparation and figure out what opportunities are open to AB 540 students. “I wish I could live my life without those little things. I wish to be able to enjoy my time in Davis. But I can’t because I have to read the fine print,” she said.

Still, she hasn’t given up on her goal of becoming a pediatrician. Because she wouldn’t qualify for a medical license now, she said, she plans to start by getting her master’s degree in counseling or psychology and gaining more experience working with children.

“I know as long as I follow the lead, it will eventually pay off,” she said.

González is a member of the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists across California. This story and other articles on higher education are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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