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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How the Media get National Service Wrong (Sometimes)

As news media pick up stories about graduating students missing out on high-power corporate jobs and falling back on national service, some details are skewed.

Here is my rebuttal to some stories I’ve seen in the media lately about national service as a solution to college student angst about employment and loan repayment. Like this one from the Wall Street Journal, and this one from MSN Money.

A term of national service is not the same as nonprofit employment. And there’s a lot more to public service than a year of stipended national service. It’s misleading to say that when the Class of 2009 is locked out of entry level positions at huge corporations, they may opt for “nonprofit work” by joining AmeriCorps for $10,000 a year.

What’s wrong with that kind of reporting?

1. Recent coverage is perpetuating the false idea that only people rejected from business careers look into national service and nonprofit work.

Service is not the job you can get when no one else will hire you. Competition is high for national service slots. Far more people apply to most service corps than there are openings. For example, Teach For America saw 25,000 applications last year, but only needed a fraction of that to fill all its corps member openings. Chicago’s Inner City Teaching Corps has gotten five times the number of applicants than it’s had openings.

Service organizations are looking for people committed to social justice, who actually have volunteer, leadership, and issue-focused experience. People for whom a term of service is a plausible commitment, and who have something to offer communities.

And in fact, you can actually graduate from college aspiring to a national service experience or nonprofit career — because you are committed to social change, community issues, living your faith, etc. That is, if people who are mentoring you can educate you about these kinds of opportunities.

Mid-career professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to earning their companies a profit are often surprised to find how tricky it is to break into the nonprofit sector. While business skills are valuable in running nonprofit organizations, and many nonprofit careerists earn MBAs, the nonprofit sector is not the repository of people who didn’t make it as capitalists.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a capitalist.

2. A term of national service is not an alternate career path or a nonprofit job.

A term of service is usually a year or two — it’s not exactly an alternative career path. It’s short term. After your term you can decide what to do next — you’ll have more experience than you did as a college senior, but your options in life are still as wide open.

While most U.S.-based service programs are 501(c)(3) nonprofits themselves, corps members are supported by a range of host sites, not just nonprofits. Corps members teach in public schools and serve in local government agencies, as well as in nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit careers do exist — and national service is a great launching point. To understand nonprofit careers better, check out the Guide to Nonprofit Careers.

3. Finally, one of the biggest misunderstandings people—including reporters—have is that nonprofit = no money. That nonprofit work is volunteer work and doesn’t count as a “real job” that can support a person or family.

At we have had to work hard, and will continue to work hard, to get people — college students, career counselors, parents, mid-career professionals — to let go of certain notions they have of nonprofit employment.

Saying that college grads will settle for a $10,000/year “job” in the nonprofit sector because of the loan repayment benefit implies that nonprofits pay poverty wages to staff. That’s a serious issue for the nonprofit sector wanting to beef up its workforce and leadership pipeline (PDF) in time for baby boomers to retire. And it’s irresponsible journalism.

From the document debunking the top-ten myths about the nonprofit sector:

The term “nonprofit” refers to the 501(c) tax code in the United States. Non-governmental organization, or NGO, and “charity” are the common terms used outside the United States. Revenues generated by nonprofit organizations go back into programs that serve the organizations’ mission. There are no stockholders receiving annual financial dividends, and employees do not receive a bonus at the end of a good year. According to Independent Sector, $670 billion are earned by nonprofit organizations annually, and one in twelve Americans work in the nonprofit sector.

To learn more about the nonprofit sector, read Chapter One of the Guide to Nonprofit Careers. To learn more about nonprofit salaries, check out these free, online resources: Occupational Outlook Handbook,, and (use the term “non-profit,” with a hyphen).

To learn more about service opportunities, check out the Corps and Coalitions list on the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

David Eisner’s recent speech about the need for national service explains its value from the perspective of governing healthy communities during an economic downturn.

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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Chicago’s Inner-City Teaching Corps

New teachers serve for two years in Chicago’s Catholic and charter schools, live in supportive inter-faith communities, earn alternative teacher certification, and work towards their education degree.

The Inner-City Teaching Corps of Chicago aims to transform education in under-served communities and to empower children in urban schools. The organization houses two programs that create and train new teachers who work in under-resourced schools in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

Eligibility & placement

The Volunteer Teaching Corps recruits and supports recent college graduates, and the Urban Impact Through Education (UNITE) program brings “proven leaders from the business world into the teaching profession.”

As with Teach For America and other education service corps you don’t need to have been an education major, though a 3.0 minimum undergraduate Grade Point Average is expected.

ICTC places its Corps members in Catholic and charter schools because its Corps members are working towards alternative certification during their first year of service.

Alternative certification and education

The Corps’s Alternative Teacher Certification Program is a partnership with Northwestern University that adds a diverse group of talented new teachers to Chicago’s schools and allows Corps members to earn up to 22 credits towards an M.S. in Education during their term of service. Read more about ICTC’s professional development benefits.

Community living and other benefits

Volunteer Teaching Corps members live in supportive communities with other six or seven other Corps members—communities that are spiritual, and inter-faith, depending on the beliefs of the community members. Corps members receive room and board, health insurance, and a $5/day allowance. They can defer qualified student loans, and earn the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for each year they are in the program. (Corps members use the first year of the Ed Award to contribute to the cost of the first eight Northwestern University course credits towards their degree.)


This year 35-40 Corps members serve in the Volunteer Teacher Corps, but the program gets five times that number of applications. About 35 teachers serve in the UNITE program for mid-career professionals transitioning into the field of education.

Career trajectory

While teachers nationally tend to stay in the classroom an average of 3-5 years before burning out, almost 90 percent of ICTC-trained teachers are still in the field of education, according to the organization’s 2007 Annual Report.

More info and open house

Read more about this year’s Corps members, and about admissions. Note that the next application deadline is Nov. 5 — that’s next week! Also note that ICTC runs several other programs.

Also note that the Volunteer Teaching Corps hosts a weekend-long open house in mid-January called the Come & See Weekend (January 15-18, 2009). Participants in the weekend stay in the VTC communities, participate in a Corps member’s classroom, and visit Chicago’s South and West Sides. Another application deadline follows that weekend on January 21.


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 New Orleans and Atlanta in the coming days.

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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TFA Alum Michelle Rhee Explained, in the WaPo

Teach For America‘s most controversial alum Michelle Rhee has garnered media attention for her iconoclastic, unbureacratic ways as the Washington, DC, chancellor of public schools. The Washington Post published a column by Jay Mathews today tracing Rhee’s basic philosophies about what works and doesn’t work in schools back to her time as a TFA Corps member in Baltimore.

“‘It was a zoo, every day,’ she recalled. Thirty-six children, all poor, suffered under a novice who had no idea what to do. But within months, for Rhee and other influential educators in her age group, the situation changed. She vowed not “to let 8-year-olds run me out of town….

“She found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math….Students became calm and engaged. Test scores soared. She kept one group with her for second and third grade. She was convinced that her students, despite their problems, ‘were the most talented kids ever.'”

But Rhee couldn’t teach them forever. According to Mathews, Rhee explained: “‘All of those kids would go on to other teachers and totally lose everything because those teachers were’ lousy. (Rhee used an earthier adjective.)”

The experience of working against convention to get those kids to succeed — and then the crushing disappointment of watching them go on to fail — shaped Rhee’s outlook and mission running DC’s public schools.

Teach For America, the nation’s most famous and elite education service corps, strives to eliminate educational inequities by placing graduates of top universities for two years in critical needs school districts throughout the United States. The program doesn’t aim to develop the teacher work force or address teacher shortages so much as to make it possible for all children to achieve in school, no matter where they are born, or under what circumstances.

It makes sense that Rhee works outside conventions. The two-year program trains its Corps members somewhat differently from a traditional academic program for teacher preparation. Because Corps members receive a couple months of training before becoming full-time teachers for the first time, their training tends to be very concrete, focusing on assessment, planning, and instruction, rather than emphasizing philosophy and content that are detached from the classroom application.

Hired through school district’s alternative certification programs, many Corps members earn certification through credits they earn through out their two years.

Corps members earn a starting salary for teachers in their district; benefits such as student loan deferment and the Eli Segal Education Award come through a partnership with AmeriCorps.

About a third of TFA alums go on to pursue careers in education. Most go on to leadership roles in other fields and sectors, informed by their years in the classroom. (Read about the impact of TFA Corps members and alumni. Read more about TFA’s career transitions support.) TFA has established partnerships with graduate schools who offer scholarships, application fee waivers, admission deferments and other benefits to TFA alums.

In the past year, applications to Teach For America (TFA) soared to over 25,000, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier in the year, while only 6,200 TFA Corps members served last year.

That’s a lot of applicants who are turned away.

Many of these tens of thousands of applicants are drawn to Teach For America’s mission. Other applicants may be drawn to service more generally, and have applied to TFA because it’s hands-down one of the most prestigious, best-known, and best-funded AmeriCorps programs. Other applicants still may be attracted to the honor of serving with such an elite Corps of young people.

This week The New Service blog is going to look at a few other education service corps, including Chicago’s Inner City Teaching Corps and the Mississippi Teacher 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.

For graduating college seniors interested in applying to TFA this fall, note that the second for four deadlines is coming up Nov. 7. Read more about TFA admissions.

TFA has been a cosponsor of our graduate admissions fairs for years and this fall financially sponsored two of our grad fairs, including the upcoming event in Atlanta, Nov. 3.

Columnist Jay Mathews hosted a chat online about the column on Michelle Rhee.

Tuesday 10/28, Eli Lilly and Company and Teach For America announced a new networking partnership in Indianapolis that aims to strengthen the TFA Corps members as well as the students they teach.