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Affordability Initiative Exchanges Tuition for Public Service

Students do public service to earn tuition.

Dickinson College has announced another significant initiative to increase affordability for students who desire its useful education in the arts and sciences. The Dickinson College Public Service Fellowship is an alternative model of access to a high-quality, distinctively American liberal-arts education supported by up to $40,000 in tuition credits in exchange for public service.

The Public Service Fellowship will accommodate the increasing number of talented high-school seniors who are interested in public service and who, for financial or personal reasons, do not enter college immediately after graduation. The Fellowship gives high-school seniors the flexibility to determine when matriculation into Dickinson is right for them and rewards them for serving society.

After four years of high school, not all students are ready to continue with higher education. For some, a one-year break from academia, commonly referred to as a "gap year," provides time for students to learn more about themselves and the world. Already common in other countries, the U.S. is now seeing an increase in students seeking time off before matriculation to save money for college; others seek civic engagement or travel. President Obama has called on Americans to participate in our nation’s recovery and renewal by serving in our communities. To support this idea, the federal government’s Web site is an online resource for registering a community program, finding service opportunities and the tools for creating one.

“Dickinson College’s founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and ardent revolutionary who in an address to the people of the United States in 1787 declared boldly that every citizen should be a dedicated and engaged public servant. Such service was a form of patriotism in the new United States. Rush believed strongly that the new nation would depend on a selfless spirit and a commitment on the part of all citizens to helping one another. He also stressed the importance of participating in the new democracy by speaking out on issues of importance, advocating for human rights, advancing the economic viability of the new nation and, most importantly, engaging in military or community service,” said Dickinson College President William G. Durden. “The Dickinson College Public Service Fellowship is intended to advance Dr. Rush’s vision for the 21st century by rewarding young adults who wish to serve their society through meaningful public service and, at the same time, provide an affordable, high quality, distinctively American liberal-arts education. The Public Service Fellowship follows other affordability initiatives instituted at Dickinson that anticipate the changing pattern of college admissions.”

The Public Service Fellowship parallels the college’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, an educational enhancement that allows degree-granting institutions of higher learning such as Dickinson to enter into an agreement with the Veteran’s Administration to fund tuition expenses for veterans. Dickinson’s other affordability and access initiatives include its recently announced Community College Partnership Program with five institutions, four of which have signed agreements including Howard Community College and Montgomery College in Maryland and Northampton Community College and Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania; the college’s generous changes to its Independent 529 Program; its long-standing early-entry and advanced-credit programs; and the possibility through accelerated coursework to shorten the time to degree from four years.

Students can apply for admission into the Fellowship in their senior year of high school. If accepted, students may defer enrollment until the beginning of the academic year for one, two, three or four years. Students who have engaged in public service for up to four years following high-school graduation receive a $10,000 tuition credit for each year of public service, up to a total of $40,000. Use of credits will be limited to a maximum of $10,000 annually and will be applied to the student's account when matriculated. The Fellowship amount will be in addition to other institutional grants and scholarships for which the student may be eligible. Dickinson grants and scholarships won’t be affected by receipt of the Fellowship unless the student's total gift aid exceeds the student's total cost of attendance. The college will work with students to determine the best timing for using the credits, within the context of other aid.

Students must engage in meaningful public service devoted to improving the human condition and/or the natural environment. A student may opt to join well-established public service programs that offer a wide array of experiences, such as AmeriCorps (which also awards up to $4,725 for college tuition), or the student may pursue an independently designed project with a local, national or international nonprofit organization. In all cases, students must work 30-40 hours a week for 10-12 months (at least 1,200 total hours). The hours may be a traditional 30-40 hour workweek, or a more intensive experience such as disaster relief work that may require 12 to 14 hour days. The public service work may be compensated or uncompensated.

Application for the Fellowship will include for review and approval an overview of the project to the admissions committee that includes an essay describing the value of the proposed program to the individual and to society. Upon completion of the project, and as a final requirement for admission, an essay that reflects on the public service experience and describes how it might influence a student’s course of undergraduate study must be submitted to the Fellow’s Dickinson advisor. Dickinson will accept Fellowship applications after Sept. 1 for the 2010/11 academic year.

High-school graduates with a year or two of public service work completed immediately following graduation also are eligible and would not be required to write the entry essay, but would be asked to validate the quality and substance of their public service project. Once on campus, all Fellows will share reflections and lessons learned during the course of the public service project with other members of the Dickinson community in a structured forum.

Upon matriculation at Dickinson, Public Service Fellows receive priority consideration for positions as resident advisors, community advisors and other opportunities to further reduce tuition and fees and gain additional leadership experience. Public Service Fellows may enroll in college courses for credit while engaged in their public service project as long as they are not a degree-seeking student while doing so and the coursework meets Dickinson’s established criteria for transfer.

Published May 30, 2009