To meet the challenges of reducing budget deficits, paying off debt, and getting our citizens back to work, all responsible solutions should be considered. As our state works hard to boost economic recovery and prosperity, we would be wise to utilize all resources available to us. One such resource is national service.
Corporation for National and Community Service programs — AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America — help our communities address some of our most pressing challenges like teacher and nursing shortages, access to health care, K-12 academic success, disaster response, environmental degradation, and reintegrating veterans into civilian life.
The 20 presidents, chancellors and CEOs of the Montana Campus Compact are committed to deepening the ability of their campuses to address critical community needs and to educate students to meet their civic responsibilities. We see the partnership between higher education and national service as an effective strategy to reach both academic and community goals. The MTCC programs, created with national service support, allow the state’s colleges and universities to better prepare students for meaningful careers and address community challenges simultaneously.
This year, the Montana Campus Compact will place more than 1,100 full and part-time AmeriCorps members and 35 AmeriCorps and VISTA members in 28 urban and rural communities across Montana. These dedicated national service members will engage an additional 5,000 students and citizens as volunteers in community and neighborhood projects.
National service is a tremendously cost-effective investment in our students and communities. AmeriCorps and VISTA resources help our faculty enrich the academic experiences for many college students who are able to apply course content to real-world issues, develop vital professional skills, and learn lessons about the power and responsibility of active citizenship. Similarly, communities benefit from the energy and ideas generated by engaged college students. In this way, college education becomes less of private gain for a few individuals and more of public good from which everyone benefits.
We know that student civic engagement makes for great education. When students get involved in community projects they are better able to make connections between theory and practice, learn problem-solving, work in teams and acquire marketable job skills. Their experience with community projects often influences future career choices and strengthens the potential for interesting and meaningful employment.
Last year in Montana, AmeriCorps and VISTA members — and the thousands of college students that they recruited — provided critical flood relief, mentored young children, created sustainable food and nutrition plans for grade schools, built and remodeled low-income housing, developed community gardens, fed homeless military veterans and much more. In addition, their service earned them valuable education awards which help to offset the costs of higher education and assist in removing one of the barriers to college graduation. The students who participate in these programs are more likely to graduate than other students.
National service enriches our state in many ways. It improves education. It helps to solve community problems. It reinforces our commitment to the American values of honor and public service. We urge our leaders in Washington to continue to make this important investment in our students and in our future.
Waded Cruzado, president,
Montana State University
Royce Engstrom, president,
University of Montana
Jane Karas, president,
Flathead Valley Community College
Dean McGovern, executive director,
Montana Campus Compact
Luana Ross, president,
Salish Kootenai College
Richard Storey, chancellor,
University of Montana Western
Tom Trebon, president,
(The authors are members of the Executive Committee of the Montana Campus Compact, a statewide consortium of 20 public, private, two-year, four-year, tribal and community colleges and universities.)