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Getting paid to go to school? California’s community colleges try it out

Getting paid to go to school? California’s community colleges try it out


Adam Echelman
Leah Richardson is juggling community college and work, but her job doesn’t pay enough to cover the cost of living in Sonoma County. Often, she relies on a food pantry, despite receiving thousands of dollars in financial aid from her school, Santa Rosa Junior College.
Now a new program will pay her for every hour she spends in class and on homework. The $30 million state program, called Hire UP, is an experiment modeled on the state’s many guaranteed income programs. It focuses on students who are formerly incarcerated, like Richardson, as well as former or current foster youth, and those receiving CalWorks benefits, the state’s cash aid program for low-income adults with children. Ten community college districts received the money and some schools, including Santa Rosa Junior College, are beginning to distribute it now. Others have yet to set a timeline.
Richardson, 37, is one of the first recipients. On a recent morning, she sat at a cafe next to campus, where students hurried by, but she didn’t notice them as she stared at her financial aid statement on her iPhone.
“I’m a little in shock,” she said as she used her fingers to zoom in on the web page that showed her current grants.
She’ll receive monthly payments of nearly $2,000, starting today. Those payments are calculated based on the state’s minimum wage, $16 an hour, for each of the 30 hours she spends every week on school.
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