Applications to national post-graduation service programs such as Teach for America, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps have reached record proportions this year, driven by graduates seeking stable employment in a crumbling job market and looking to fulfill what some have termed the “call to service” of President Barack Obama.
Applications to TFA this year broke organization records, rising 42 percent over the 2007-’08 application cycle to reach a total of 35,000. That figure includes a record number of Yale students: 16 percent of Yale seniors applied to the program this year, up from 11 percent in the class of 2008. Meanwhile, nationwide applications to public service program AmeriCorps have more than quadrupled.
“With the shattering of old paradigms and with the foundation of our economy crumbling,” Teach for America Yale recruiter David Stanley ’05 said, “people realize that we’re essentially condemning an entire generation of kids to become low-income, low-skilled workers.”
Nationwide applications to the Peace Corps and to AmeriCorps — both programs that send volunteers to meet communities’ critical needs in fields like education and health — have also risen, by early indicators. Applications to the Peace Corps are up 16 percent so far this calendar year, compared with 2008. And online applications to AmeriCorps (the organization separates online and paper applications and has yet to count the latter) are up more than 400 percent through February 2009, the last month for which statistics are available.
Edna Novak, executive director of TFA in Connecticut, said the current recession has impacted TFA in three ways: More seniors are applying to the program, which drives down acceptance rates and makes fundraising more challenging.
Some school districts, including those in Los Angeles and New York City, will be accepting fewer TFA corps members, Novak said, because budget cuts have left those districts with less money to pay TFA salaries.
The Columbia Spectator reported on March 8 that TFA plans to slash the number of applicants it is accepting for New York City posts to 350, down from 500. A spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education would not confirm that figure Thursday, and nor would Novak and Stutz: The application process for the program does not end until mid-May.
Meanwhile, other districts have increased the number of TFA corps members they plan to hire. Milwaukee schools will hire 30 new teachers, and districts in Nashville and Boston will hire 50 and 40 new positions, respectively.
Novak said she does not know whether the total number of seniors accepted to the program will rise or fall based on these fluctuations.
By contrast, the Peace Corps has said budget fiscal concerns will not force it to reduce the number of volunteers it hires.
And AmeriCorps, anticipating a budget increase of $261 million as a result of the stimulus package passed in February, plans to increase the size of its volunteer corps to 88,000, up from 75,000, over the 2009 calendar year.
Ultimately, AmeriCorps hopes to expand to 250,000 members by 2017. Even given the skyrocketing number of applications, that trajectory may keep the program’s selectivity at about last year’s 33 percent level, Siobhan Dugan, the program’s public affairs specialist, said.
Graduating seniors, nervous about finding a job in an economy where hundreds of thousands are being laid off each month, are looking to TFA as an alternative, TFA National Communications Manager Trevor Stutz said.
In addition to the economic climate, Stutz and Stanley said, Obama’s rhetoric has inspired students to perform more community service.
“Obama coming into office and challenging the country to help was really inspiring,” said Daniel Jimenez ’09, who will serve as a teacher in California’s Bay Area for two years after graduation. “And the economy certainly made [becoming a TFA teacher] an easier decision.”
Mechanical engineering major Jimenez applied to a few engineering companies, but said many were not looking to hire new employees because there was little work available. He did not look into the program seriously until a TFA alumnus recommended him during his junior year, he said.
“The stability in education may attract some who are afraid of the instability in many other fields,” Minh Tran ’09, who will be teaching with TFA in Connecticut next year, wrote in an e-mail message.
Tran, whose work for TFA follows two summers spent working in New Haven public schools, is currently running for Ward 1 alderman.
A number of Yale alumni have worked for TFA and the organization maintains a high campus profile, Stanley said, both of which contribute to the high number of applications TFA receives from the school. About 11 percent of seniors graduating from Ivy League schools applied to TFA this year, organization officials said.