Yellow Ribbon Program Makes School More Affordable for Vets

Military service member saluting the U.S. flagThe Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 created a new way to help members of the military pay for school.

Currently the the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays up to the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition and fees. However, if you’re heading to a private college, going to grad school, and/or are not qualified to pay in-state tuition, your expenses may exceed the GI Bill benefit. The Yellow Ribbon Program — taking effect at participating schools on August 1st, 2009 — attempts to close the gap between GI Bill education benefits, and the true cost of many educational opportunities.

As part of the Yellow Ribbon Program, schools can volunteer to contribute up to 50 percent of that gap between their own costs and the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition and fees. The government then matches the school’s Continue reading

New Podcast: Grad School Financial Aid for Professionals

Photo via the East SA blog

Photo via the East SA blog

The newest Idealist podcast features Regina Garner, Director of Student Financial Services for the Monterey Institute of International Studies.’s Jung Fitzpatrick talks with Regina who dispels some common myths that working professionals have about qualifying for financial aid and to learn more about the ins and outs of financial aid for graduate education. Listen now!

Whether you’re thinking about graduate school–or are already on your way–this podcast helps answer many questions about the financial aid process. Topics include the basics of how financial aid is determined, the role of The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 in debt forgiveness and loan repayment as well as other issues for professionals transitioning to graduate school.

If you have more questions about grad school, check out our free Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center, which in addition to articles on financing your graduate education, includes information on preparing for, applying to and alternatives to graduate school. You can also post questions to our Graduate Education Forum! Follow Idealist’s GradResources on Twitter.

Also be sure to check out the upcoming Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good this summer in Washington D.C. and New York City and this fall in 16 cities in the United States and Canada.

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Combining Grad School and Citizen Service

Programs offer opportunities to ambitious public servants to combine graduate education with national or international service.

Last week I wrote about choosing between grad school and service if you are a rising college senior and facing the worst job market of your lifetime.

Some programs are specially designed to let you participate in both, simultaneously.

Consider the Master’s Community Development Program at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT, to serve as an AmeriCorps*VISTA as partial fulfillment of a graduate degree program. After completing the program’s coursework, students can participate in a VISTA year to fulfill practicum requirements–while paying 50 percent of the usual practicum fees. Students are responsible for ensuring the VISTA placement is relevant to their graduate degree (and an appropriate practicum).

Another prominent grad school – service partnership is that of Peace Corps’ university programs (of which SIT is also a partner). Peace Corps offers the Masters International program that allows incoming Volunteers to study for a year or two at a partner graduate institution, and then to participate for two years in Peace Corps in partial fulfillment of the graduate requirements. To learn more, check out the Peace Corps website, or listen to the Idealist podcast show featuring Peace Corps’ Eileen Conoboy on the topic.

Many teaching corps, such as Mississippi Teacher Corps, Chicago’s Inner City Teaching Corps, and NYC Teaching Fellows offer access to grad school — master’s degrees in education-related fields — to their participants.

If you are weighing your options and decide you truly want it all, go for it! Through these programs (and probably others — let me know) you can have the best of graduate education and service.

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School or Service? In a Down Economy which Way Should You Turn?

For the Class of 2009, job prospects appear grim. As an employment alternative, which is better: heading straight onto grad school, or participating in a term of service?

Is grad school the only safe haven from the nightmarish job market? Absolutely not. For an aspiring public service professional, serving full-time for a year or two with a national or international volunteer organization, or finding a fellowship in your field, may be better solutions.

The Case for and against Grad School

In any economy, both good and bad reasons exist to go to graduate school. Where normally a graduating college senior may be attracted to the structure of campus life, the security of knowing what’s next, and the parental nod of approval that come with a grad school experience, in this dismal job market even more reasons make grad school appealing as an alternate to the job search.

First: If you have a good idea about what direction you want to go in professionally, but fear few job openings in your field, you may be better off going to grad school so that you can work toward your professional goals rather than take a low-paying job that is completely unrelated, and that will take up valuable space on your resume.

Further, grad school also will allow you to defer loans, and may offer more affordable health insurance options than if you worked in a hourly-wage job that didn’t afford you health coverage.

At, we tend to think that grad students fair better after they’ve gotten a few years of work experience. Read more about why most undergrads should wait before going to grad school. Strictly academic fields of discipline (biology, history, literature, language) may be more inviting of undergrads, but professional degree programs (nonprofit management, business, public interest law, social work, public health, etc.) want to see people with real-world skills and professional experience.

Waiting to go to grad school gives you a chance to explore your professional talents and interests, offers you a basis for understanding what you’ll learn in school, and helps you to sharpen your career goals.

In addition to these normal arguments to postpone grad studies, this economic climate poses funding challenges for potential grad students.

  • First, federal loans may not cover 100 percent of your need. Usually students can use private loans to supplement federal funds. But this year, private loans are limited because of the credit crisis.
  • Second, competition will be stiffer for scholarships. School- and foundation-based scholarships are tied to endowments, which are weaker now due to recent stock market declines and fluctuations.
  • Finally, state-funded schools face big declines in funding, due to state budget shortfalls caused by unemployment and lost income tax revenue, so graduate assistantships may also be harder to get.

If you do go directly onto grad school this fall, take advantage of your time in school to get as much field experience as possible, including internships, part-time jobs, and volunteer opportunities. Also take advantage of your school’s alumni and career services to to explore and network in your areas of interest. Your experience and networks add to the value of your education in the eyes of employers.

Service Corps as a Temporary Alternative to Grad School, or Not

Participating in a term of service may be a great alternative for you for a year or two. You’ll be on the front lines of helping the people who are hardest hit by the economic crisis —communities already living on the financial edge. You’ll likely take on meaty service projects—in a team setting or on your own—and get more responsibility than you’d get in a entry-level job anyway.

Most service corps offer basic health coverage, and make it possible for you to defer student loan payments for the length of the term. Check with individual programs for details; you can see a list of Corps and Coalitions in the right-hand side bar of this blog. In the best of economies, service allows you to jumpstart your career with connections and responsibility you’d be hard-pressed to gain in an entry level position. And it offers the essential benefits like a living stipend, student loan deferment, and health insurance that grad school also does — without the burden of morestudent loan debt. To read about the value of service as a launching-off point for a social-impact career, read Why Service?

The bottom line is that service opportunities may be more plentiful than jobs, and more plentiful than ever if President-Elect Obama’s stimulus plan calls for the expansion of national service. The Change/Wire blog has had great reporting of why service should be included in the package, and it is a raison d’etre of the Service Nation movement to increase support of national service. Even if the stimulus package overlooks national service, Congress may still choose to increase support of national service programs which leverage private funds and volunteers, to make them very cost-effective investments.

Good reasons exist not to do a term of service. If you can’t afford to live on less than $1000 a month because of other financial burdens, service may not be feasible. My friend Jen is supporting her husband who is still in school, for example.

You may know yourself well enough to know that you’ll be miserable living “simply.” My cousin Meagen, who will soon graduate from George Washington University, says she hated being a camp counselor last summer because of the primitive accommodations — so she knows that serving out some Peace Corps assignments would be disastrous for her.

You might also consider finding a fellowship opportunity. has a list of fellowships in public service, and a discussion forum with even more opportunities listed.

Keeping Your Options Open

Julie Harrold, Director of Admissions and Recruitment at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at University of Minnesota, says the most important things are to keep your options open and to put yourself in a position to learn and network with leaders.

While she agrees that grad school is more valuable after a few years of professional experience, Julie advises this year’s rising grads to apply for service corps, jobs, fellowships, and grad school—and see what comes up. She says most grad schools should be willing to defer enrollment for a year if an admitted student wants to use that time for AmeriCorps or another enriching opportunity. (You can also combine the two experiences.)

She goes onto say that developing a relationship with a leader who will mentor you is very valuable—as is putting yourself in a position to really learn something new. She also cautions young people from turning down a great opportunity in, say, community development, simply because their ultimate goal is in education policy. What you learn in one discipline will offer you broader insights as you move onto other disciplines, so community development may in fact help prepare you in unique ways for a career in education policy.

Finally, Julie Harrold is willing to answer questions about admissions and can be reached via email, jharrold[at]

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Meaty Internships with Mississippi Teacher Corps

Teacher corps offers interns a chance to serve and learn in substantial ways next summer.

Mississippi Teacher Corps (which I also wrote about here) is recruiting summer 2009 interns. While the positions are unpaid, rising college seniors, juniors, and sophomores may be able to find funding through their college career centers. The corps is looking for 4-8 interns in 2009.

MTC interns offer substantial help with the program’s summer school where new corps members practice teaching, and interns take on meaty projects in MTC’s main office.

Interns are also expected to take on a research project for the summer that they present on before leaving; past interns have tackled topics like the connection between poverty and wrongful imprisonment; the importance of early childhood education; and the experience of several “Lost Boys of Sudan” here in Mississippi.

MTC offers its interns other learning opportunities: a regular speaker series, field trips, and  a two-day visit to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, where they work on a project of the Institute’s choosing.

Apply here — deadline is March 1, 2009. Check out the video!:

The Mississippi Teacher Corps is a two-year program, designed for non-education majors, recruits college graduates to teach in the Mississippi Delta and other critical-needs areas, and offers a host of benefits, including teacher training and certification, a full scholarship for a master’s degree in education, job placement that includes full pay and benefits and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students in one of the poorest areas of the country.

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AmeriCorps*NCCC Members Earn Certification through American Humanics

AmeriCorps’s conservation corps partners with American Humanics to offer corps members certification in nonprofit competency.

Also note that AmeriCorps*NCCC has new deadlines: April 1 (summer class) and July 1 (winter class).

Recognizing that a term of service is a valuable education, American Humanics (AH) offers ncccAmeriCorps*NCCC corps members the opportunity to count service hours towards AH nonprofit certification.

A national organization that offers educational opportunities on nonprofit management topics to undergraduates throughout the United States, AH has been “preparing tomorrow’s nonprofit leaders” since 1948. Around 3,000 students across the country are engaged in AH programs at 70 colleges and universities. Many of these students are working towards AH certification.

(Note that neither AH nor any other nonprofit management certification is required to get a program-management job in the nonprofit sector. Some public service roles do require certification. Read more about professional certification — and how to assess the value employers place on it — on’s Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center.)

The requirements of typical AH certification include 300 hours of approved internship service, general engagement in nonprofit leadership activities, academic coursework, a Bachelor’s degree, and completion of one AH Management Institute (the organization’s annual conference). What this means for NCCC corps members and alumni:

  • AmeriCorps*NCCC members serve for 1700 hours which more than achieves the internship and nonprofit leadership objectives of certification.
  • NCCC’s extensive training throughout the 10-month term of service counts for most of the academic course work requirements.
  • NCCC alumni must attend one AH Management Institute to complete some of the course requirements.
  • For the remaining course requirements, NCCC alumni can take courses at AH partner schools. Louisiana State University’s Shreveport campus allows NCCC members and recent alumni to take the needed courses  online—paying in-state tuition. (The Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can apply to the costs of these courses.) LSU Shreveport also waives the GRE requirement for NCCC alumni taking these courses.
  • If NCCC corps members haven’t finished their Bachelor’s degree yet, AH gives them seven years to complete it in order to be eligible for certification.

AmeriCorps*NCCC is the branch of AmeriCorps that is a conservation corps, modeled after the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps. NCCC stands for National Civilian Conservation Corps and is pronounced “N-triple-C.” The program is team-based and residential, for people aged 18-24. Teams travel to a variety of work sites throughout the 10-month term of service, exposing the young people to a variety of new service experiences. NCCC has been instrumental in rebuilding New Orleans and Mississippi in the wake of Hurrican Katrina in 2005. Each team is based out of one of the following campuses: Denver, CO; Sacramento, CA; Perry Point, MD; and Vinton, IA

AmeriCorps*NCCC is accepting applications through April 1, 2009, for its summer-start class, and July 1, 2009, for its winter-start class.

Learn more by listening to the podcast with Katrina Mathis on AmeriCorps*NCCC.

AH also has its own AmeriCorps program called AmeriCorps*ProCorps. ProCorps members serve from 450-1700 hours and earn the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (up To $4,725 for the full 1700-hour term).

NYC Teaching Fellows

New teachers primarily work in Bronx and Brooklyn schools with high demand for faculty, covering subjects that are also desperately needed. Within two to three years, Fellows earn a subsidized Masters degree from university in the area.

NYC Teaching Fellows — as with Teach For America, Inner-City Teaching Corps, Mississippi Teacher Corps, and other education corps we are looking at this week — is designed to bring new talent to schools.


People who enter the program don’t need to have had any formal background in education, but do need to have a 3.0 Grade Point Average in undergraduate course work. Read about other eligibility requirements.

The program recruits both recent college grads as well as career changers.

Training and “placement”

After an intense June seven-week pre-service training, Fellows start teaching. The program assigns each Fellow the New York City borough in which they will teach, and their subject. (Of particular need are math and science teachers.)

Fellows research and apply for the teaching positions themselves, and are granted a provisional state teaching license for their time in the program.

While teaching, Fellows earn the salary and benefits of starting teachers in the city (salary nears $46,000).

Master’s degree

Each semester, Fellows take two courses towards their master’s degree, mostly paid for by the New York City Department of Education. (Over the course of the program, Fellows contribute almost $7,000 towards the cost of the mastser’s degree, and that is deducted from their pay checks.)

The specific universities and degrees vary for each Fellow, depending on the borough where they work, and the subject they teach. More than half attend City University of New York (CUNY) schools. For most Fellows, it takes two to three years to finish the degree. After that, NYC Teaching Fellows encourages graduating Fellows to stay in the city and continue teaching. They cite a statistic I’ve seen elsewhere that it takes about five years for a new teacher to really hit their stride, and they want all their Fellows to reach that point.


Browse profiles and videos of Fellows, including Travis Brown’s. Read the blog of Bill King, third-year Fellow teaching biology and physics.

Also, watch interviews with first-year Fellow Kristen Bloomer and take a look inside Fellow Jeanine Tubiolo’s classroom:

Finally, watch this online presentation about the NYC Teaching Fellows.

Deadlines and application

Upcoming deadlines to apply for a 2009 Fellowship are December 5 and January 5. Read more about the application process.


For more resources on graduate education, check out the Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center, and if you live in the U.S. South, come out to one of our graduate admissions fairs touring — tonight in New Orleans and Monday in Atlanta.

This week The New Service blog is looking at education service corps. While many service corps programs have application due dates in the spring for a fall start date, most education service corps have deadlines throughout the winter and start in the summer. Check out this list of education-related opprotunities that don’t require an education degree.

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