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Potential Elimination of AmeriCorps Could Impact Communities Nationwide

Friday, February 24, 2017  
Posted by: Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy
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Do you use AmeriCorps volunteers to help provide services for your students? NCAN is assembling a list of member programs that use it so we can better engage with and support each other. If you belong on that list, please email Carrie!

The Corporation for National and Community Service is on a list of programs proposed for elimination in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for next year, according to reports. The CNCS oversees the AmeriCorps program, which is a crucial partner for many NCAN members who place near-peer advisors into underserved high schools around the country. 

The Trump administration will finalize the list of programs, which could see additions or changes, by March 13, according to The New York Times – the same week that Trump’s first budget proposal is expected. Eliminating all nine programs currently on the list would save less than one-tenth of 1 percent of projected federal government spending next year. However, the current administration views eliminating these small-dollar programs, such as AmeriCorps, as a message about misuse of taxpayer dollars. 

Austin Buchan, Chief Executive Officer of NCAN member College Forward, headquartered in Austin, TX, said that, “not being included in the White House proposal was unprecedented -- and deserved unprecedented action.” College Forward reached out to networks more broadly than in the past to encourage its alumni and partners to support the Service Year Alliance campaign to Save AmeriCorps.

The AmeriCorps program provides grants to non-profit organizations that allow them to hire volunteers for one- or two-year commitments to provide a service to the community. These college access programs are part of the 21,600 sites nationwide with AmeriCorps volunteers. This structure is an ideal fit for college access programs that are trying to scale their operations and value the connection of advisors who are just recently out of the college experience themselves. 

“Should this program be cut, College Now would have to dramatically reduce services in the schools and the community,” said Lee Friedman, Chief Executive Officer of College Now Greater Cleveland in Ohio, another NCAN member. 

“The AmeriCorps program effectively doubles the number of staff members that College Now deploys in schools in two Northeast Ohio counties, significantly increasing our reach for a fraction of the cost,” said Friedman. Approximately 400 citizens have served Ohio students through their AmeriCorps program, and College Now has hired 26 high-performers as permanent college access advisors after their service time ended. 

“The AmeriCorps near-peer model has been proven to be extremely effective in working with young people,” Friedman continued. “We use AmeriCorps as a pipeline for training future college access professionals that help our most vulnerable students navigate postsecondary [education].”

Beyond the benefits of a near-peer model, AmeriCorps and college access programs are a fit for another reason: the AmeriCorps program’s focus on helping students pay for college. According to Inside Higher Ed, “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.” AmeriCorps has provided over $2.4 billion in student aid to the approximately 1 million individuals who have served in its 22-year history. And some colleges and universities match those dollars. 

Founded in 1994, AmeriCorps has never quite reached the original vision of its founders. They had hoped for 100,000 participants in service annually by the second year. However, since 2004, there have only been about 80,000 serving annually. There are about five applicants for each position, so the problem is funding, not interest. However, opponents question whether AmeriCorps is the best way to encourage civic responsibility. 

Despite these debates, complete elimination of the program would impact communities nationwide. NCAN will continue to monitor developments and share updates, including advocacy opportunities, with our members. As Buchan says, “AmeriCorps is very much in the DNA of College Forward.”