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More College Graduates Turning to Public Service Jobs

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Thanks in part to the troubled economy and job hunting difficulties, a surprising number of recent college graduates have turned toward careers in public service.

More Young College Grads Working for Federal Government and Non-Profits

The New York Times reports that an analysis of data from the American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau shows that 16% more young college graduates worked for the federal government than in the previous year and 11% more worked for nonprofit groups in 2009 alone. A survey conducted by the Labor Department shows that the number of educated young people in these jobs continued to rise in 2010.

“It’s not uncommon for me to hear of over 100 applications for a nonprofit position, sometimes many more than that, and many more Ivy League college graduates applying than before,” said Diana Aviv, chief executive of Independent Sector, a nonprofit nonpartisan coalition of charities, foundations and corporate giving programs committed to advancing the common good in America and around the world.

“Some of these people haven’t been employed for a while and are happy to have something. But once they’re there, they’ve recalibrated and reoriented themselves toward public service,” Aviv told the Times.

College Graduates Must be Motivated for Public Service

In 2010, Minnesota Public Radio reported that officials at the Minnesota Reading Corps, an AmeriCorps-sponsored statewide initiative to help every Minnesota child become a successful reader by the end of 3rd grade, has received more applications as the job market has declined. Applicants are not only new grads, but also older workers facing a mid-career job loss.

Anna Peters, who is in charge of recruitment at the Reading Corps, believes that public service organizations shouldn’t be considered a refuge for people who can’t find work. “The economy may be bad and it may be hard to find a job. But for us we’re not going to take anybody just because they need a job,” Peters said in the article. “We need people who are committed to their community, people who are motivated by service.”

After applying for several jobs, Carleton College graduate Anne O’Gara accepted a position tutoring students in reading at a charter school in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota through the Reading Corps. It was the only position she was offered. For her one year commitment O’Gara will receive a stipend of less than $1,000 a month, government health coverage, and a $5,350 grant to use for future education expenses.

“It’s very alarming to go into this kind of environment," O’Gara told Minnesota Public Radio. “I’ve always had a lot of success in finding part-time jobs and I’ve never seen anything like this where I don’t get calls back for resumes.”

Non-Profit Employees: Lower Pay, Bigger Hearts?

Alison Sadock, who was interviewed by the New York Times, is also earning less than she had initially hoped. The 2009 University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate had thoughts of working in retail, finance or brand management at a big company— some type of job that correlated with her consumer affairs and business majors. Instead, she is a corporate accounts assistant at Starlight Children’s Foundation, a Los Angeles-based charity that provides entertainment, education and other support services to seriously ill children.

Although the Times reports that workers in management jobs at private companies earn about 22% more than their nonprofit counterparts, Sadock and many other young college graduates claim they are grateful the private sector “shut them out,” so to speak.

“I don’t get paid a million dollars, that’s for sure. But I am financially independent, and I make ends meet,” said Sadock, who is paid $35,000 annually.

Public Service Positions for New College Graduates

Three well-known public organizations known for “hiring” new college graduates are AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America.

  • AmeriCorps. According to the New York Times, applications for AmeriCorps positions nearly tripled to 258,829 in 2010 from 91,399 in 2008. Created under President Bill Clinton by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities each year for adults of all ages and backgrounds through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups—such as the above-mentioned Minnesota Reading Corps. For more information: www.AmeriCorps.gov
  • Peace Corps The Peace Corps also reports an incredible surge in applications. Established in 1961 and celebrating its 50 th anniversary in 2011, the Peace Corps has three simple goals: helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. For more information: www.PeaceCorps.gov
  • Teach for America. Since its inception in 1990, non-profit Teach for America has strived to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting new college graduates to teach in rural and urban communities throughout the United States for two or more years. The number of Teach for America applicants increased by a whopping 32% last year to a record 46,359 and the group was just included on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list. For more information: www.TeachForAmerica.org

Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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