April 15, 2004


I saw an AP article with the intriguing title Iraq War Proves Thorny Issue for Kerry. What struck me was this unrelated paragraph towards the end:

During his day on campus, Kerry promoted his plan to give a free college education to students who agree to public service. He said he would pay for it using $13 million that banks earn for issuing government-backed student loans.

Huh? So I decided to check it out. First I found a little more info in the original article from Iowa:

Kerry proposed the "Service for College" initiative to help make college affordable and strengthen America's security. According to this initiative, for two years of service to the United States, every young person can earn the equivalent of the state's four-year public college tuition. Students could also get two years of college tuition in exchange for one year of service.

"It is great because it offers tuition to students and at the same time helps out the whole country by getting students involved in service like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps or the military," Schoenthal-Muse said.

We already have that for the military: it's called ROTC. Still not satisfied that I understood exactly what Kerry is proposing, I went right to the link at his website.

Now, I was a little disgusted when I read the opening paragraph

On September 11th, 2001, America experienced the most terrible and deadly attack in its history. Yet, President Bush's response was to call on Americans to wait in long lines at airports, go shopping, or wrap their windows in plastic.

which has nothing at all to do with education, but somehow Kerry ties it in to making our nation stronger by calling on young people to get into public service. I don't know what that has to do with 9/11 or the jab at Bush, but whatever.

So I finally got to the pdf file of his proposal, and I see that he's offering

a simple deal to hundreds of thousands of America's young people: If you will serve for two years in one of America's toughest and most important jobs, we will pay for four years of tuition at the typical public university. Young people will also be able to use their educational awards to pay off student loans if they have already finished college or to enter job training, start a small business, or buy a first home.

Forget for a moment the big question of where the money will come from to implement this plan and focus on some fine print. My big question is whether you get a salary while you're doing your two years of service. Are those two years done for no money and then you just get tuition at the end, or do you make some sort of salary for the service in addition to the college tuition? That's a big difference, and it's not addresed.

If you're working and making a salary for two years, plus you get free college, then that's a lot of money that has to materialize out of nowhere. I'm nowhere near competent in economics or business (wish the husband were here), but this sounds fishy to me.

Does anyone else understand how this could work?

Posted by Sarah at April 15, 2004 02:45 PM

It works by everyone forgetting he ever said it. Of course, only Congress can make it happen.

AmeriCorps now does things groups like the Boy Scouts are no longer allowed to do.I know one young woman who cleared trails in Arkansas for a year. They were paid virtually nothing, but had "the experience of helping others." It is, however, the only true public service.

Politicians like to claim they've spent their lives in public service, but I hardly consider a good-paying job with lots of perks a "service."

Posted by: Mike at April 15, 2004 06:29 PM

You're right to be concerned, as the details are important. Arguments for alternative public service have been around since the fights over the draft in the late 60's.

Every time we propose to increase incentives for non-military "alternative" public service, careful consideration needs to be given as to whether such incentives will be detrimental to the ones for enlistment in the military.

No matter how you slice it, domestic public service is not the same and a "one-size fits all" strategy won't work IMO.

A "one-size fits all" approach is generally true for military enlistment incentives (with some exceptions). But what complainers often fail to understand is that even a soldier in some specialized non-combat MOS is still as deployable to a combat zone (Iraq) as any combat soldier.

Not so for "Americorps" volunteers, who I gather often design their own public service projects (to include such dangerous duty as passing out condoms in high schools and teaching about STD's).

Posted by: Paul H. at April 15, 2004 08:57 PM

Here's your answer.

He said he would pay for it using $13 million that banks earn for issuing government-backed student loans

He's gonna rob a few banks. :o)

Posted by: Larry at April 15, 2004 10:54 PM

Americorps volunteers do a lot of the social service stuff that would otherwise not be done at all. I'm of two minds about Americorps and CityYear (a similar program that, for a time, was affiliated with it). My eldest daughter was a volunteer, and she thinks of it as one of the best things she has done. It does give inner-city youth a chance to be of service, and also to be influenced in a positive direction. There is putatively a structure for discipline, but it can be sporadically implemented.
My daughter was older than some of the volunteers, and a college graduate. Her service (2 years) gave her an opportunity to work through some issues, and decide on a career direction. It also gave her some practical experience with being in charge of a group. She will be taking her first vows this summer in a Franciscan order.
These programs need to be supported by the business and charitable community, not just supported by the government. I don't think they can realistically be expanded to the general population, though. There's a big difference in the quality of volunteer you get when you spread the net too far.

Posted by: Linda at April 19, 2004 06:26 PM