The 8.9 percent national unemployment rate may be causing recent college graduates to enter public and nonprofit service in higher numbers. The sector, promising job security and greater stability, seems a brighter hope for students who would otherwise be unemployed.
With the creation of the Office of Community and Civic Engagement housed under the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs, students will have more understanding of what public service is, and how to pursue related careers.
Although still in development, the office is preparing to serve as a liaison between classroom-based knowledge and community-related problems.
“The idea is basically to link the university more directly with local community partners and level the resources of the university to address community needs,” said Dr. Robin Bachin, director of the civic engagement project. “We’re looking at creating opportunities for students in existing courses where they can have an experiential learning component.”
While the office will cater to students who feel the need to develop change in local communities, it will also be an existing reminder of alternative post-graduation options such as the Peace Corps, Teach for America and other nonprofit organizations.
According to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau, 16 percent more college graduates worked for the federal government in 2009 than in 2008 and 11 percent more for nonprofit organizations.
Applications for AmeriCorps positions have nearly tripled to 258,829 in 2010 from 91,399 in 2008.
Veronica Alvarez, an AmeriCorps Public Ally, chose to postpone her medical school plans after graduating with a degree in neuroscience from UM in 2010. Alvarez is pursuing a master’s degree in community and social change, and works closely with the Office of Community and Civic Engagement as a civic engagement fellow.
“It’s been viewed as a second option. You get paid less and it seems to be busy work,” Alvarez said. “I think people going into public service is good for our democracy.”
Her job in public service, she said, is what she’s always wanted to do.
Alvarez seems to be part of this growing movement toward public service. It is questionable whether students are using public service as a means of getting a job period, or are genuinely interested in serving for the purpose of good.
“For the first time in a long time, maybe since World War II, there is a sense for students in college that the future might not necessarily be as bright as they once thought it would be. It’s not clear that a college degree will translate into a lucrative high-paying job,” Bachin said.
“Students who are young and ambitious and motivated and questioning things, when they see the world around them and they have experienced the economic crisis and the crisis in public leadership that we are experiencing today, I think it causes one to ask the question: What can I do to improve the state of my community?”
Similarly, Stephen Murray, a senior in the school of business, entered public service as an activist to raise awareness.
As a sophomore living in Coconut Grove, Murray noticed a startling amount of unemployed people on the streets of the West Grove. Dissatisfied with the situation, he became the democratic committeeman for his voting precinct and began speaking out on related issues.
A lack of reaction from local officials prompted him to run for office. In November 2009, Murray won and became the youngest person ever elected to the Coconut Grove Village Council.
“I ran for public service because having the position gives you access to the higher level people who make the decisions,” Murray said.
“I see a problem that a lot of people go into public service for private benefit… if you intend on going into public service you have to remember that it’s service, not self service.”
Jonathan Borge may be contacted at email@example.com.