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California’s College Cash Incentive: Community Colleges Paying Students to Learn

Cash Incentive Program Eases Financial Burden for Community College Students

Monitoring and Challenges: The Future of Support Programs like Hire UP

According to Claycord Newstalk 925, Leah Richardson, a community college student, struggles to cover living expenses in Sonoma County despite financial aid from Santa Rosa Junior College. A new $30 million state program called Hire UP give students a cash incentive for hours spent in class and on homework benefiting formerly incarcerated individuals like Richardson as well as former or current foster youth and those receiving CalWorks benefits. Ten community college districts received the funding with Santa Rosa Junior College among the first to distribute it. Richardson, 37, is among the program’s initial recipients of cash incentive finding relief from financial strain as she focuses on her studies.

Leah Richardson, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College will now receive monthly payments of nearly $2,000 through the Hire UP program based on her 30 hours per week spent on school, calculated at the state’s minimum wage of $16 per hour. Previously unable to afford full-time attendance due to past incarceration and substance use issues, Richardson balanced afternoon classes with early morning shifts at Safeway and occasional bakery work.

Gina Browne from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office is monitoring the administration and impact of the Hire UP program. At Santa Rosa Junior College, formerly incarcerated students gather weekly for support through the Second Chance program sharing experiences and navigating life post-prison in a supportive environment.

Matthew Domingos, 42, assists with meetings at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Second Chance program while balancing part-time work at the college and pursuing his associate degree. He is unsure of his compensation as a participant in the Hire UP program. Leah Richardson, another program participant faces difficulties attending meetings due to her time constraints and financial challenges reflecting the struggles of balancing education and work. With around 160 formerly incarcerated students enrolling annually at the college, Second Chance program counselor Jessy Paisley expresses concerns about the program’s future when Hire UP funding concludes.

(PHOTO: California’s College Cash Incentive: Community Colleges Paying Students to Learn)

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Navigating Financial Aid Challenges in Community College Education

The average cost of attending Santa Rosa Junior College, including living expenses ranges from $20,000 to $30,000 annually. Most students qualify for financial aid, with an average package of $10,000 per year but funding limitations mean not all eligible students can benefit from programs like Hire UP. With just over $2.6 million allocated to the Sonoma County Junior College District for Hire UP, the available funds could run out quickly given the number of eligible students.

Susan Topham, vice chancellor of educational services for the San Diego Community College District, anticipates exhausting most of the Hire UP funds within the first two years. Compared to state and federal financial aid programs, Hire UP’s funding is relatively limited. In the 2022-23 academic year, California provided over $700 million in state aid to community college students, while the federal government allocated nearly $1.7 billion in grants yet per-person financial assistance remains modest with community college students typically receiving cash incentive just over $1,600 a year from the state’s Cal Grant program, a figure established in 1969.

Advocates like Rodriguez have pushed for increased cash incentive for students, leading to a new law in 2022 aimed at gradually raising state funding through the Cal Grant program. However, implementation depends on budget approval with uncertainty due to looming deficits. While traditional financial aid programs often have strict requirements, Hire UP offers more flexibility, allowing part-time students to qualify based on their course load. Domingos benefits from the Student Success Completion Grant as a full-time student, whereas Richardson, unable to meet full-time requirements due to work, finds support through Hire UP receiving over $8,000 in addition to existing aid. Despite concerns about funding, Santa Rosa Junior College ensures continued support for Hire UP recipients until graduation potentially totaling over $20,000 for Richardson by next year.

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