By Carmen Gonzalez, CalMatters
Natalia Angeles always knew she was going to college despite being undocumented, so giving up the chance to attend a four-year university straight out of high school was not easy. But when the acceptance came from the University of California at Riverside, she quickly 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,” said Angeles. “And then when I noticed that UC Riverside was not 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 out-of-pocket costs, but is unsure of how she will earn money to pay for school in the future.
Working part-time – or even full-time – is an important part of many students’ college plans, especially as living costs in California continue to rise. But California’s estimated 75,000 undocumented students don’t qualify for federal work-study programs or most job opportunities, and many struggle to make ends meet.
A new state service program launched last week, #CaliforniansForAll College Corps, will give hundreds of them an opportunity to earn money for college while doing community service. It’s the latest of a number of efforts California has made to help undocumented students pay for college.
College Corps fellows will learn from community-based organizations, taking on projects in the public schools, tackling food insecurity and combating climate change. Fellows receive as much as $10,000 for completing a year of service, which includes a living allowance and an education award.
“Our global goal is to engage more people in service and have more people work in the community to solve big problems,” said Josh Fryday, California’s Chief Service Officer, whose office runs College Corps.
With 3,200 spots to fill, College Corps has welcomed about 570 fellows who are AB 540 California Dream Act students, meaning they lack legal residency in California but attended high school here and qualify for resident tuition. It launched the same week that a federal appeals court ruled that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that gives work permits and protection from deportation to some undocumented students who arrived in the country as children, violates immigration law.
The ongoing legal battles over DACA have ratcheted up stress for undocumented students. In a 2020 survey of about 1,300 undocumented college students in California, 96% reported worrying about not having enough money to pay for things, with 60% worrying a lot of the time, almost always or always.
“Historically, unfortunately, service has excluded people. We hope, with this program, that the message that we’re sending from California is clear, which is that we really value our Dreamers,” said Fryday. “We know how much they can contribute to making this world a better place for us all.”
Yusbely Delgado, a student at the University of California at Davis, told CalMatters how thankful she was for opportunities like College Corps. Delgado has wanted to be a pediatrician since high school, but during her sophomore year, she said, her father told her she might not be able to because of her immigration status. Delgado persisted, taking advanced placement classes and applying for DACA.
“I had my whole life planned,” she said.
Then, just before she started at UC Davis, a federal judge blocked new applicants to the DACA program. Delgado applied to a campus job after being told they accepted AB 540 students like her. But after going through training, she said, she learned she wasn’t eligible.
“It was a very upsetting time,” she said.
As one of the 2022-2023 College Corps fellows, Delgado is now creating a program for sixth grade students in local schools. “Our mission is to encourage low-income students to go into college,” she said.
College Corps fellows applaud speakers during their swearing-in ceremony in Sacramento on Oct. 7, 2022.Rahul Lal / CalMatters