Cash for Class: MoVaLEARNS Stipend Moves Moreno Valley

A whopping 80 percent of students work while attending college. It’s a staggering trend that’s especially harmful to low-income students, according to Dr. Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

More than half of students who work 15 hours or more average a C or lower. The stress often causes struggling learners to seek a break from school, yet only 13 percent of college dropouts ever return, with far fewer persisting to graduation, according to a 2019 National Student Clearinghouse report.

The good news? Help is on the way. For out-of-the-box solutions for the “learn versus earn” dilemma, look no further than the Inland Empire/Desert Region, where it pays to go to college.

To ensure students don’t have to leave school just to pay the bills, the City of Moreno Valley and Moreno Valley College have teamed up to create MoVaLEARNS. The program selects students to receive $250 per month throughout the fall and spring semesters, allowing them to stay in school and finish their degrees faster.

“It is really innovative, and there isn’t anything else like it,” says Dr. Melody Graveen, Dean of Career Technical Education at Moreno Valley College.

The program was initially made possible in 2018 through a competitive $100,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Global Mayors Challenge. Fifty CTE students were selected to get paid to go to school for the pilot semester. The money would serve as a basic income, allowing students to focus fully on their studies.

With a notable boost in grades and completion rates among the first cohort, the City decided to continue the program after the initial grant expired, budgeting $100,000 annually to assist MVC students.

“We created the program after deciding that increasing the number of college graduates is critical to our City’s success,” explains Moreno Valley Mayor Dr. Yxstian Gutierrez, both an alum of the College and a former instructor. “Too many students were dropping out for lack of money. We … found that just an extra $250 a month could make the difference in achieving that college degree.

“It’s a bargain in terms of return on investment.”

So far, there have been three cohorts of 50 students, with plenty to show for the City’s generosity. Last year, for example, 47 students out of 50 completed the entire year. According to Graveen, “That was a 94-percent retention rate from fall to spring, which is huge — that doesn’t happen very often.”

MoVaLEARNS is a part of the City’s larger umbrella program, Hire MoVal, an award-winning set of incentives for local businesses to hire Moreno Valley residents. By motivating more locals to earn CTE skills with MoVaLEARNS and offering extra incentives to encourage grads to stay in the area, Moreno Valley is looking toward the future, bolstering industry and enriching its workforce.

While the City supplies funding, MVC provides counselors that help keep students on track for their educational goals. Each year, the City and College cross paths in a variety of co-sponsored events, including the annual kickoff celebration.

“It’s a really special partnership that we have with our city,” says the dean. “I don’t know of any other partnership that’s quite like it.”

The MoVaLEARNS program is the first of its kind in the country, and in Moreno Valley, it’s giving a leg up to students who need it most. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.5 percent of residents are in poverty, surpassing the national average by four percent. Meanwhile, only 16.3 percent of persons 25 years and up hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, much lower than the 36-percent U.S. average.

“A lot of students in our area are disproportionally impacted as far as income,” explains Graveen, who notes that program participants include single parents and students struggling with homelessness. “The program allows them to focus on going to school, rather than taking on the hours that would make that extra $250 a month.”

MVC alum Bonnie Galloway knows firsthand how a program like MoVaLEARNS can help a student clear higher education hurdles.

“For me, the funds alleviated the financial strain that I was experiencing being a single mother and a full-time student,” says the grateful grad.

With the extra support, Galloway didn’t have to struggle like she usually did when purchasing books and supplies for school. This past spring, she successfully transferred to California State University, San Bernardino, where she is well on her way to earning a bachelor’s in social work and launching a meaningful career.

As for signing up for the program, the process is simple. Students apply, go to school, and then get paid — no strings attached. Applicants need to meet basic criteria, such as being a Moreno Valley resident, maintaining a 2.0 GPA or higher and registering for CTE classes.

As the website encourages, “Now that you’re in the program, you should be able to cut back on your work hours… Sign up for an extra class — or get tutoring. Take a step closer to earning that degree or certificate.”

Students are taking the program up on its proposal, registering sky-high completion rates and even earning international recognition for MoVaLEARNS.

Last August, the program received the prestigious International City/County Management Association’s Local Government Excellence Award in the Community Diversity & Inclusion category. The award recognizes valuable contributions to local government management that demonstrate innovation in improving quality of life in cities, towns and counties across the country.

Looking toward the future, MoVaLEARNS aims to serve even more students. Right now, the school receives more than 100 applications a year for the 50 spots in the cohort. The goal is to reach out to business partners and look at ways to expand through donations to the College’s foundation.

“I can’t think of anybody more deserving than our students,” says the dean. “I would love to see more people be able to participate in a program like this.”

For some, like MVC Computer Information Systems student Melissa Valenzuela, it’s a game-changer.

“It’s generally just a big help right now as a college student who is working two jobs and going to school and taking care of my family,” she reflects.

Because of MoVaLEARNS, she is zipping through her cybersecurity courses, and her ideal IT job is now closer than ever:

“It is allowing me to focus more on my studies.”


Some College, No Degree: A 2019 Snapshot for the Nation and 50 States, National Student Clearinghouse. “3.8 million, or 13 percent, of the 29 million former students have returned to postsecondary education since 2013.”

 Working while in college might hurt students more than it helps, Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Nov 2019.

QuickFacts, Moreno Valley City, California, United States Census Bureau