AmeriCorps sounded like a good idea. Create a program where American youth could basically earn free college by working and helping their communities. On the surface — and if you don’t understand the inherent issue with any government program — it sounds like a great way to help people get their educations.
The program — which never reached the level its creator Bill Clinton envisioned — now finds itself on the chopping block along with other left-wing darlings such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Trump administration is circulating a list of programs to eliminate — and it includes the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that finances AmeriCorps, which places young people in service positions in which they earn money for student aid or to repay student loans.
The list, revealed by The New York Times, also includes the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, previously reported to be targets for elimination in the first Trump budget. Both the NEH and the NEA support campus programs, and their advocates in higher education are already seeking support to save the agencies.
In the case of AmeriCorps, the program was a major initiative of President Clinton, and has long been associated with him. Hillary Clinton, in her campaign, vowed to expand the program. While many have praised the program for promoting service among young people and providing them with money for college, the program has been stymied by tight budgets and has never become as large or influential as President Clinton envisioned. (Here is a background article from 2014 about the program on its 20th anniversary.)
AmeriCorps has been a meaningful source of money for college for its participants. For a year of service, students can receive a grant equivalent to the maximum Pell Grant to use for future college costs or to repay student loans, and students may receive up two of these educational awards. (The maximum Pell Grant for 2015-16 was $5,775.)
See that? For two years of service, an AmeriCorps participant during 2015-2016 will get, at most, $11,550.
The average tuition for 2016? For a state college, in-state tuition and fees run $9,650 per year. A student would need to spend two years with AmeriCorps to cover the cost of one year of college.
That means students are left having to pony up for the other three years through some other means — either another college payment program like student loans, or the oldest college payment program, called “a job.”
But if a student can find a more efficient means to pay for three years of college, doesn’t it make sense for them to do so for the fourth? Why should the American taxpayer be on the hook to fund a program that represents the worst option?
Anyway, why would the public pay for work normally assigned to volunteers?
While some who took part in the program worship it, their fuzzy feelings are irrelevant. This is a financial decision, and should be based on whether it makes sense, and AmeriCorps does not.