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Episode 20: Californians for All with Josh Fryday

Josh Fryday serves as California’s Chief Service Officer within the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom to lead service, volunteer, and civic engagement efforts throughout California. As a member of the Governor’s Cabinet, Fryday led the COVID-19 Taskforce to support food-insecure communities and food banks across the state. Since appointed, California Volunteers has launched the nation’s first statewide Climate Action Corps, Californians for All Volunteer Initiative, a statewide neighbor-to-neighbor campaign, and the Californians for All College Program, which we’ll dive into today to help thousands of Californians who commit to serving for a year pay for college. Fryday is a military veteran and the former mayor of Novato, his hometown. He also served as President of Golden State Opportunity (GSO), leading the expansion and implementation of the California Earned Tax Credit and other programs to provide financial security to millions of low-income people in California. Prior to GSO, he served as Chief Operating Officer for NextGen Climate, a leading national organization focused on climate change. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Nati Rodriguez [01:59] 
We’re really excited to learn all about the Californians for All College Corps, and I’d like to start out by reading some of the goals of the initiative.  

  1. To create a generation of civic minded leaders with the ability to bridge divides and solve problems, 
  2. To help low-income students graduate college on time and with less debt, 
  3. Address societal challenges and help build more equitable communities across California 

Josh, will you speak to these goals and how College Corps addresses these?  

Josh Fryday [02:33] 
Absolutely, happy to speak to them! This is a program that Governor [Newsom] is extremely proud of; we’re extremely proud of, and we hope is a model for the country. We’re so proud that we get to build it here in California first with campuses across the state. So, as you mentioned, there are multiple goals with this program, and we feel like we can actually achieve all these goals, which is why we think this program is such a win-win-win. It’s a win for students and the next generation of leaders in California. It’s a win for our communities because these students are going to be doing meaningful work around a variety of issues to tackle some of our state’s biggest problems. It’s a win for all society; when we graduate students and young people who are going to have both the experience, but also the skills to really work with people of very different backgrounds and very different perspectives to actually solve problems in our community. We feel like we can tackle all this at once. We’re very ambitious about it, but we think we have a really special model that’s going to allow us to do it, and we’re excited to get going. 

Nati Rodriguez [03:37]
Can you talk about who can apply to College Corps, how do they apply and how do they get funded?  

Josh Fryday [03:47]
We started this program with 46 universities across the state of California. That’s seven UCs, 16 CSUs, 19 community colleges, and four private schools. So, we have the whole breadth of higher education here in California, and at those participating schools, any student can apply. We are focusing on students who have a financial need. The idea, as you mentioned, one of the goals is to reduce student debt. The Governor recognizes that we have a really serious student debt crisis in this country where we’re crippling a whole generation of young people and saddling them with debt that we know then, not just that they have to carry it with them for the rest of their lives, but it hampers their ability to pursue their passion when you have to pursue a paycheck. It sometimes inhibits people from being involved in their community when they feel like they just have to go earn money. 

We are focusing on how we graduate students with a financial need by giving them the opportunity to serve in their community, and that’s what’s new and exciting. It’s based on a very American idea, which is why we call it the California GI Bill. I’m a veteran, and for generations, America has invested in helping veterans who served our country pay for college and graduate debt free. We’re taking that simple idea, and we’re applying it here in California in a really exciting way. For the students at those 46 campuses, they can apply through their school, or they can go to our website,, to find out how to apply, and then they get started from there.  

Nati Rodriguez [5:31]
That’s great. We read that one of the service areas is K-12 Education, and hundreds of college students will serve as tutors, which we’re hearing nationally, there’s a big need to be paired with students because of the pandemic. Who are the students being served to be tutored, and how do the college students get training and matching?  

Josh Fryday [05:50] 
So, first of all, our College Corps students, of which there’s over 3,200 of them across the state of California, are focused on three main areas. Food insecurity – supporting our food banks and helping with food insecurity. Climate action – as we know California is facing, and the planet’s facing, an existential climate crisis. The third one, as you mentioned, is around tutoring and mentoring.  

We know coming out of COVID, especially with learning loss, especially acute with our low-income students, that we need to do something. We need to step up and support that population especially. We know that tutoring is one of the most important ways that we can close the achievement gap and we can get people up to speed. So, what we really have to do is make tutoring something that’s honestly not just for rich kids; it’s not just for people who can afford it. Tutors need to be made available for everyone.  

What’s so exciting about the College Corps program is it’s a state investing in actually over 1,500 tutors. These are College Corps students that are going to be serving and tutoring at low-income schools throughout the state of California, providing that near-peer, which is a term of art in the tutor world. Near-peer support, where we have young people in college helping low-income students in communities that were really hit hard through COVID to try to catch up and give them the support that they need. It’s not just giving them the support that they need academically, it’s giving them the model and the life inspiration that people that look like them, they can see themselves in college, that they’re being tutored by people from their community who look like them.  

One of the things we’re most proud of with our College Corps program, including many of our tutors is for the first time ever in a state service program, we are including AB 540 eligible Dreamers to participate. This means we have Dreamers up and down the state who are now able to tutor and mentor other Dreamers and get paid for it through our program. We just think it’s an exciting opportunity again to bring our communities together to create these connections while also addressing what is just a serious need right now and that’s overcoming the learning loss as we all try to come out of COVID and recover. 

Nati Rodriguez [08:06] 
Yes. Hopefully some of these college students will be turned on to be educators to help the teacher pipeline.   

Josh Fryday [08:15] 
We are seeing that already. We’re seeing College Corps members who are both – I was with one at CSU San Bernardino a couple of weeks ago who said he’s studying science, he’s now tutoring. He had never thought about becoming a teacher before, and now he’s seriously thinking about pursuing a career in education. That is exactly what we want. That is exactly what we are hoping for with this program to expose our best and brightest to the classroom and hopefully create the next generation of teachers to keep supporting our young people. 

Nati Rodriguez [09:32] 
That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing about the program. Can you share about what we hope to learn in this first year and year two and so on, and what will success look like 

Josh Fryday [09:44] 
Yeah, it’s going to be pretty straightforward. Are we graduating students with less debt? Are we graduating students on time? One of our hopes is, and we see especially among some of our Black and Brown student populations, that they have longer graduation rates and a harder time graduating in some of our institutions. So, we’re hoping that this program, because of the financial resources available, are actually able to help students graduate, especially low-income students, graduate faster so they can start pursuing their career. 

We hope that we see, and we think we will see, the impact not just on the students, but on the communities – that we start to see some of the achievement gap that we talked about decrease because of the intense tutoring and mentoring that’s going to be happening; that we’re seeing communities help achieve their climate goals – the number of trees they’re planting, the number of community gardens they’re building; and that we see our food banks being supported in the way they need to be. I was just at a food bank in the Inland Empire a few weeks ago, who earlier this year had the National Guard helping support them and keeping them operational. The Guard left, and now they have College Corps members doing that same work. Our members are doing really meaningful work, and we’re going to be able to track that impact, and that’s a success. 

Our hope is that what we learn from this first year is how to make this a more successful program for the student. Part of that is not just about how to make sure they graduate on time, but how do they feel they were able to build professional skills, networks, and connections to each other and into their community. Also, how are we going to make this successful for the community? Making sure we’re getting feedback constantly from the teachers where our College Corps members are going to be tutoring and mentoring, about how we make the program more successful for them in their classroom and their students, from the food banks and from the other organizations we’re going to be supporting. There’s a lot to learn, and we’re putting a lot in place to make sure we’re analyzing the data. 

Just anecdotally, in the first few months, I’ve heard such inspirational stories of young people saying they wouldn’t be able to stay in college if it wasn’t for this program. For the first time, they get to have a job where it’s helping their academic goals because they get to do things that are supporting what their academic interests are, not just taking a job because they need to pay the bills. They feel for the first time – these are things that I’ve heard directly that they get to contribute, that they’re part of society and they’re doing something positive, and their community is valuing them. That is exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish. Those are the kinds of things that we’re tracking, and we’re hoping for. We’re going to learn a lot, but we’re going to learn it together. We’re doing this, like I said, with 46 universities. We’re doing this with over 600 nonprofits and organizations around the state. This is an all-hands-on-deck team effort across the state of California. 

Nati Rodriguez [12:48] 
That’s fantastic. Will there be longitudinal tracking of the participants beyond their year of service?  

Josh Fryday [12:55] 
Yeah, so one of the things we’re doing is building an alumni program for the students to make sure that both they stay connected to each other, but then also, we are able to track them. We said this, and the Governor said this when he swore them in a couple of months ago – we hope in California, this is just the beginning of their service journey, that if we’re going to continue to have a state that is a California for all, that serves everyone, where everyone thrives and we’re going to solve some of these big challenges that we have growing inequality, climate change, food insecurity, and racial disparities – if we’re actually going to solve these, we need people to step up. We need people to serve.  

Our hope is that College Corps is the beginning of that service journey and our College Corps members and all of our service members will continue to serve because they’ve been inspired. They see the value that it has, not just for the community but for them personally and that they continue to serve throughout their career. We’re going to be tracking all of that so that we can do some of the longitudinal studies as well. 

Nati Rodriguez [13:56] 
Given that many school districts are struggling to find tutors, I know that College Corps is really helping to meet that need. Is College Corps sufficient? If not, what else is needed to meet the need for tutors and mentors in K-12?  

Josh Fryday [14:14]
Yeah, it’s a great question. A few months ago, White House President Biden did a national call and estimated that for us to deal with this crisis that we’re in, we’re going to need over 250,000 tutors across the country. If you just do the math, if California is roughly 10% of the population, you think about, maybe we need around 25,000. I’ve heard other experts in the education field say we’re going to need much more than that; that that’s a low estimate. If you just look at the pure numbers of what the experts are saying, College Corps is absolutely necessary. It’s an exciting new model of giving people the opportunity to get paid to be tutors and work in these schools but of course, it’s not sufficient, and we’re going to need to keep growing service opportunities. Fortunately, in California, we are taking extensive efforts to go beyond College Corps.  

Our AmeriCorps programs, which also run through our Office of California Volunteers, have an additional couple thousand tutors out there in communities across the state. We also have a Youth Jobs Corps program that was just started that is doing tutoring in some communities. We’re about to launch an Experience Corps where we receive investments to engage senior citizens who are retired, who either, maybe they were teachers or at least have several decades of work experience, to engage them as tutors. We do see this as being an all-hands-on-deck moment where we need to reach into all of society and say, whether you’re a college student, or you’re retired, or you have any time in between, we need you to step up to be a tutor, and we’re going to create the opportunity for you to do that. 

Nati Rodriguez [16:18] 
I did read that recruitment for College Corps hasn’t been an issue at all with something like three people applying for every opening. If that’s the case, what are the limiting factors for bringing on more college students into the service areas?  

Josh Fryday [16:32] 
We’ve received funding from the legislature to run this program, and so it’s funded. The Governor put it in the budget and obviously believes heavily in this program, and the legislature has supported it. What they funded is those 3,200 slots per year. As you indicated, in our first year, where no one had ever heard about this program or knew what it was and hadn’t been run before, we had nearly 10,000 applications for those 3,000 spots.  

What that said to us was that, not just do young people need a way to help pay for college, which we know is a fact, but young people are hungry to actually do something positive, to contribute to the community, and to do something that’s meaningful and that helps other people. They’re knocking on our door for that opportunity. Our hope is, and the Governor said this when he launched the program, we’re going to run this program. When it’s successful, we’re going to go back to the legislature and ask that we continue to grow it here in California, and ultimately, we hope it becomes a model for the country.  

Nati Rodriguez [17:33] 
Great. That takes me to my next question actually. Many states have designed similar tutoring programs to address unfinished learning and the devastating effects of the pandemic in the short term. We’ve also universally recognized that all students benefit from this trusted relationship through tutoring and mentoring. What would it take to extend and scale this program beyond the next four years?  

Josh Fryday [17:58] 
I think it’ll take political will at the end of the day. It’ll take leaders continuing to say, like the Governor has, that we think service and providing opportunities for people to do things like tutor, is a priority. We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is, which is what he and the legislature have done. We’re going to need to continue to show success. Part of what it’s going to take is to demonstrate the success of this program, to demonstrate that it is having an impact, it is an important part of the solution, and then to continue to build the political momentum and the support to want to scale it. We’re very encouraged about what we’re seeing so far and the impact it’s having, and we’re just going to keep building on that. 

Nati Rodriguez [18:50] 
So, switching gears here a little bit. What are you reading, watching or listening to these days?  

Josh Fryday [18:55] 
Oh, that is switching gears. What am I listening to – I love to listen to, it’s going to sound so boring – I love to listen to Ezra Klein. He has a podcast that he does. He is also a writer for the New York Times. What I love about listening to him and the conversations that he has is he’s a progressive thinker, writer, and philosopher, but he often invites people that are conservative who he doesn’t agree with to have an exchange, and important debates. I love the idea of being able to push your perspectives and be challenged about some of our assumptions. 

So, I enjoy listening to that. In terms of watching, most of what I watch is either on the Disney Channel with my kids or a Marvel movie. It’s usually limited to that. I don’t have much time to watch more than that.  

In terms of reading, I love reading biographies and histories. I love reading because there are these characters, wonderful characters. I just read and finished the book about Ulysses Grant, the former President and also the General during the Civil War. He’s someone who you hear about in a textbook, or maybe the name gets thrown around somewhere in a college course, but I didn’t know anything about him. Ron Chernow, who also wrote the Hamilton biography, that ended up becoming the inspiration for the Broadway musical also wrote this. 

These are just fascinating historical figures. What you realize that I derive inspiration from is that nothing in history is inevitable. It was not inevitable that we were going to win the Civil War. It was not inevitable that there was going to be a 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. It was not inevitable that black people were going to be given the right to vote. These are the kinds of things that it’s because of individuals; it’s because of leaders who step up and have the courage to do the right thing that makes history and changes the course of history. I love reading about those stories that I didn’t know that much about and then thinking about how we can apply some of that courage to the work that we’re doing. 

Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Learner audience before we sign off?  

Josh Fryday [21:36] 
I think I’d just love to share that in addition to College Corps, there’s something really special happening in California right now, where if you take the College Corps program, which I think is going to become a model for the country; you take our Climate Corps program, which we created the first statewide climate core, now several other states are creating their own Climate Corps, which is incredible; we have a Youth Jobs Corp Program to provide service opportunities for low-income youth, foster youth, formerly incarcerated, and we have all of our AmeriCorps programs. If you take all of those, over the next couple of years, we’re going to be twice the size of the Peace Corps here in California. 

It’s a testament to the Governor’s bold vision for service, but we’re doing it. We’re building it. I think the point I’d love for the audience to know is for us to create a culture, really, at the end of the day, of compassion, a culture of care, a culture of something the Governor’s wife, the first partner, likes to call a culture of me to we, where we think about each other; we’re connected to each other; we’re not isolated; we support each other. If we’re going to really create that culture, it’s going to take everybody. It’s going to take government investing in this; it’s going to take university leaders stepping up and saying we want our graduates to have a service experience; it’s going to take business leaders to say, if we’re going to hire you, we want you to have served as a tutor. We want you to have served in your community. 

It’s going to take people like you who are hosting these conversations and have broad audiences helping get the word out. At a time where we all feel very disconnected and isolated from each other, and you turn on the news, and it looks like everyone’s at war, there’s actually really inspiring stuff happening on the ground in communities where people are coming together, people are working across different barriers to solve some of these problems. It’s inspiring, but we need more of it. Just to help us continue to push that message, go to our website at and sign up to volunteer. We like to say that whether you have a year to give to be in College Corps or you have an hour to give to take climate action on a Saturday, that’s something important for you to do. If we’re going to solve some of these issues, we need everyone at the table.  

Nati Rodriguez [23:52] 
Thank you, Josh. This has been wonderful. Thank you for sharing about all of these programs. It’s inspiring, and we can’t wait to do a part two and actually interview one of the college students participating in College Corps.  

Josh Fryday [24:06] 
Yes, they are much more interesting and exciting than I am, so I’m glad you’re doing that. We appreciate it.