A Congressional bill that would eventually require students to complete at least one year of national or community service in order to receive federal financial aid for postsecondary education has come under fire from prominent educators during the past month.
At the same time, however, higher education officials have supported other bills that would award financial aid in exchange for community service, as long as such service was not mandatory for students receiving aid.
The controversial bill, introduced by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and now being considered by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, would provide students with $10,000 to be used for tuition or job training for each year they spend in a proposed Civilian Service, a national program which would promote projects such as land reclamation and adult education.
The new plan would replace all current federal financial aid programs after a five-year phase-in period, and would require that students participate in the Civilian Service or spend four years in the armed forces in order to receive financial aid from the federal government.
Critics have said that the Nunn bill discriminates against lower-income students by requiring them to take time off in order to fulfill the Civilian Service or military requirement.
"[The National Service Act] would have a dramaticaly different impact on different income groups," President of Ithaca College James J. Whalen testified before the Labor and Human Resources Committee last month.
"Children of the affluent could go directlyfrom school to college, while the poor would bedenied access to higher education unless theycompleted national service," Whalen said.
Whalen, who is also chairman of the board ofthe American Council on Education (ACE), was onlyone of a number of educators who testified inCongress last month about a variety of proposalstying financial aid to public service.
Moreover, Whalen said in an interview yesterdaythat many students would be unable to getfinancial aid under the National Service Act--atleast in the first years of the program--since itwould only be able to subsidize a fraction of thenumber of students who need it.
"If you dismantle the financial aid programthat has been developed over the last threedecades, you're cutting back on the ability ofmany students to go to school," Whalen said.
The ACE estimates that initially, only 700,000students would be able to get aid under theprogram. Approximately five million studentsreceive need-based financial aid nationwide,according to John Shattuck, Harvard's vicepresident for government and community affairs.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) willrelease an estimate of the cost of the programthis Friday, a CBO analyst said this week.
President Derek C. Bok, who has said he maytestify in Washington, said in an interview lastmonth he feared that students would respondnegatively to required community service.
"If people are entering into community servicenot because they really want to, but because theyhave to, that often produces a certain resentmentand lack of enthusiasm which could undermine thespirit and commitment that makes student communityservice most effective," Bok said.
But while educators were critical of theNational Service Act, they are more receptive toother Congressional legislation that provides analternative to the Nunn proposal.
Instead, they support bills such as the oneproposed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), whichwould allow students the option of supplementingother existing aid packages with money earnedthrough community service.
"We support the [Mikulski] bill's provision ofthe benefit as a supplement rather thanreplacement for existing student aid," saidGresham Riley, president of Colorado College, inhis testimony in Washington last month. "We alsosupport the flexibility that allows part-timeservice while in school or after school to reducedebt."
The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committeeis also considering similar bills, including oneintroduced by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), whichwould provide money for tuition as part of anoptional, two-year full-time community serviceprogram