Peace Corps service drops

Not even volunteer services are immune from the recent economic downturn. In 2008, the Peace Corps cut programs, causing the amount of national volunteers to drop. With 65 alumni volunteering for the Corps in 2008, the University of Minnesota ranks 9th among schools with more than 15,000 undergraduates, despite the number decreasing from 71 in 2008, according to recently published rankings maintained by the Peace Corps. But the University is not the only school to decrease in volunteers. The University of Washington, ranked first the last two years, dropped nine volunteers, and the University of Texas-Austin, ranked 8th in 2008, decreased by eight. Overall, the total number of serving volunteers and trainees decreased from 8,079 in September 2007 to 7,876 in 2008 . Despite a 16 percent increase in applications in the past year , program cuts forced some volunteers to wait until people currently serving returned from their locations, Chicago office spokeswoman Christine Torres said . âÄúWeâÄôre always looking for applicants, but what we did experience at the end of last year was a cut in some of the programs overseas as a result of the economic situation,âÄù Torres said. Although the budget for the Peace Corps remained the same from the 2008 fiscal year to 2009, the price of fuel, food and decreased value of the dollar has led to the program cuts. Regional recruiter Ryan Kattner said the cuts were specific to community development and educational experiences âÄî programs open to people with âÄúless qualifications.âÄù While volunteering for a two-year service might help people escape from the many current economic issues, Torres said she does not think people enlist for economic reasons. âÄúI think making a two-year commitment to live in a new culture is quite a big one and probably is not based completely on someoneâÄôs economic situation,âÄù Torres said. âÄúThereâÄôs probably a lot of factors involved in making that decision, but certainly Peace Corps does open a lot of doors after youâÄôve completed your service.âÄù However, one of those opportunities is not currently offered by the University. Some schools offer the program Fellows/USA , which offers scholarships to former Corps volunteers to enroll in graduate school, and University alumna Cassie Murray said she wishes it was available. âÄúAfter service, you really donâÄôt have a lot of money unless you had much saved up, and when I return home IâÄôm going to be right back to paying my loans that I have from undergrad,âÄù Murray said. Murray, who graduated with degrees in Spanish and psychology in December 2007, is leaving March 10 for her service in Costa Rica. She said she made the decision to apply after studying abroad in Venezuela. âÄúI have actually always been interested, since I was 11, in the Peace Corps, and when I was abroad I just thought it was really rich to live in another culture and to understand another culture,âÄù Murray said. âÄúIâÄôve always been really involved with volunteering and non-profit work.âÄù Learning Abroad Center Program Director Sheila Collins said she thinks a âÄúfairly good numberâÄù of Peace Corps volunteers have had a previous international experience because they gain confidence to live in another culture. âÄúSo often we hear from students who are studying abroad or have recently returned from studying abroad and theyâÄôre really interested in having another international experience,âÄù Collins said. âÄúFor some of them, the Peace Corps is a really good fit.âÄù On Jan. 2, the Minneapolis Peace Corps office closed and was absorbed by the Chicago office. Although the number of local recruiters has decreased from between eight and 10 to just one âÄî Kattner âÄî he said he does not expect local numbers to go down more than they have. âÄúBecause the Twin Cities area is a big region, itâÄôs basically a pilot program having recruiters in the field,âÄù he said. âÄúThereâÄôs really no difference between me working out of my home and me working out of an office in downtown Minneapolis.âÄù