If you are an avid reader of the Student Loan Ranger blog, you have probably heard about the tough job market, the debt ceiling deal that will cut critical funding to the most vulnerable populations, and let's not forget the seemingly insurmountable student debt crisis. Americans feel they must go to school longer and accrue more student debt just to have a chance at fewer available jobs with diminishing benefits.
[When choosing a school, remember the student debt factor.]
What if there was a way to provide opportunities to people who could help underserved populations in a cost effective manner? What if they could gain both valuable work experience and financial support for their education? It seems like that would be a win-win during these economic and political times! It's a good thing it already exists.
AmeriCorps is a national service program that allows more than 75,000 people each year to serve their communities. Even if you are not familiar with the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps, or the other national service programs, you probably know of their work.
[See gap year students serving with AmeriCorps.]
I help manage a national service program called Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps. We help low-income clients with the legal assistance they could not otherwise afford with issues including foreclosures, veteran homelessness, and women facing domestic abuse, just to name a few.
Teach for America is a national service program that helps children in poverty receive an excellent education. Habitat AmeriCorps is a national service program that helps low-income families by building more affordable housing. National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is a national service program that has recently assisted rebuilding communities such as Joplin, Mo.; those affected by the Iowa floods; and the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. City Year is a national service program that helps at-risk students close the educational achievement gap.
[One expert offers advice on how to close the achievement gap.]
These are just of few of the hundreds of different national service programs around the country. As AmeriCorps members serve these communities, they also receive valuable real world experience and skills that transfer into the job market.
Although the cost of education continues to rise, serving in AmeriCorps has never been more affordable. Members earn an education award after their service to assist with current educational expenses or their current federal student debt (another reason federal loans are the smart choice). After more than 10 years at the same level, the education award was recently increased to as much as $5,550. The value is now tied to the maximum amount of the U.S. Department of Education's Pell grant. Members with student debt may also want to select Income-Based Repayment (IBR) because AmeriCorps positions are qualifying positions for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you are looking to receive some student debt assistance while gaining some valuable real life work experience and helping to serve your community, maybe AmeriCorps is for you.
[Get tips and tools for managing student loans.]
Marty Costello is senior program manager for Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps, where he provides fellows, law students, and host sites support and technical assistance. Prior to joining the Equal Justice Works staff, Costello was an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow (2005-2006) and staff attorney with LawWorks, Philadelphia VIP's community economic development project. His work focused on assisting nonprofits, community groups, and small businesses obtain pro bono legal representation. He also represented low-income homeowners with "tangled titles" in areas such as estate administration and quiet title actions. Costello received his J.D. from Villanova University School of Law and his B.S. in Business Management from West Chester University of Pennsylvania.