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AmeriCorps could play key role for college graduates

By Staff | May 17, 2011

Statistics released Monday showed that college loan debt has surpassed credit card debt.

College graduates now owe over $1 trillion for their education. While some may owe just a few thousand dollars, some owe $50,000, $75,000 or more – for just four-year degrees. Ivy League graduates and those leaving graduate school may owe even more.

Unfortunately, a college degree is no longer a sure ticket for entry into a graduate’s chosen career. That’s why when Mom or Dad call and ask how junior or daughter is doing in his or her new job, they shouldn’t be disappointed to hear that they’re making pizzas or waiting tables. At least their working.

William Hall, executive director of the Ohio Community Service Council, told the U.S. Senate Finance Committee last week how important AmeriCorps was to Ohio. He told how AmeriCorps funding was used to leverage other local support. Hall also told how through Ohio University’s ComCorps program, AmeriCorps members conducted over 14,000 health screenings for lice, vision, hearing and immunizations – providing early detection and necessary resources to keep young people healthy, increasing school attendance rates and improving academic performance.

Similar stories abound throughout the U.S. of AmeriCorps volunteers who are paid a mere subsistence to volunteer throughout the country. Some receive tuition reimbursement for their service.

It’s hard to talk about paying for a government program when the federal government hit its debt ceiling yesterday. However, AmeriCorps is a program that works in a number of wonderful ways.

It gives young people time to hone their professional skills through volunteerism. It also helps the needy by providing volunteers in the areas of housing, education, health and other worthy endeavors.

If you’re looking at it from a point of sheer frugality, though, AmeriCorps keeps young people from filing for unemployment. It also offers a grace period for student loan repayment so graduates don’t default on college loans.

Often, AmeriCorps’ critics don’t look at one reality of the program – just like any business or educational institution, AmeriCorps is only as good as the manner in which it’s administrated at the local level.

AmeriCorps volunteers, however, who take charge in their positions can build work and life skills – as well as references – to better transition into the workplace.

In the 1930s we had the Works Project Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, programs that made the difference between starving and not starving for many people.

Today we have AmeriCorps. And it’s just as important now as the WPA and CCC were back during the Great Depression. The good news is that while some wanted to eliminate AmeriCorps completely, it appears a compromise proposal will cut 6.7 percent from the program. That’s a wise decision, a far better decision than cutting the program completely and a decision that will pay dividends in fewer college loan defaults and unemployment filings.

The next chance you have to speak to your senator or representative, try to speak up for AmeriCorps. It’s an important program, one that deserves to continue.