AmeriCorps offers tuition alternative

by Angie Ness

University junior Robert Hobot found a method of paying for college other than savings accounts or loans. Along with a full load of classes, Hobot works 40 hours a week teaching job-training skills to students at public and alternative schools.
In return for full-time community service, Hobot receives a living allowance of about $640 a month, plus an educational award of $4,725 to apply toward tuition, student loans or other educational expenses.
Hobot is a member of AmeriCorps, a national service program that devotes human capital and federal funds to private, public and nonprofit community-based organizations across the country. The organization’s focus is education, environment, public safety and other human needs.
AmeriCorps, with 25,000 members in nearly 400 different programs, is in its second year of operation. Full-time members commit to a minimum of 1,700 hours of community service per year during a one- or two-year period.
One of the 450 AmeriCorps members in Minnesota, Stefanie Wallach, plans to attend the College of Education this summer session. While going to school, she plans to continue her AmeriCorps service in St. Paul through Saint Paul Future Force, one of the nine Youth Works/AmeriCorps programs in Minnesota.
Wallach works full time as a teacher’s aide at East Consolidated Elementary School in St. Paul, providing group and one-on-one tutoring. She also leads after-school enrichment programs.
The monthly stipend, which Wallach said works out to be about $4.17 an hour, makes it possible for students such as Hobot, Wallach and Maria Diaz to commit to full-time community service.
“If we weren’t getting paid, we wouldn’t be able to work 40 hours a week,” said Wallach, who also sells beaded jewelry for extra cash.
Diaz, a University senior, works at Folwell Middle School in south Minneapolis as a teacher’s aide in bilingual education. She helps English as a Second Language students make the transition from classes taught entirely in Spanish to English-speaking mainstream classes.
“I make it a little easier for kids to mainstream by increasing their comfort level,” said Diaz, who accompanies ESL students into English-speaking classes.
Next year, those ESL students may not have an AmeriCorps member in the classroom for assistance because these AmeriCorps programs have not officially been funded for next year.
Congress, led by the Republican majority, has made several attempts in appropriations committees to end funding for AmeriCorps. The program has been called a waste of federal money by many congressmen.
Should Congress stop funding the group, Bryan Anderson, AmeriCorps team leader at East Consolidated Elementary School, said the state might pick up the funding, but the program would probably be cut in half.
Each AmeriCorps program sets its own criteria for membership. Anderson said no past experience is needed and there is no age limit, although the majority of AmeriCorps members are between that ages of 18 and 24. A high school degree is not required, but non-high school graduates must commit to working on their general equivalency degrees.