Programs like AmeriCorps, which provide students with community-service fellowships linked to financial assistance, offer a welcoming environment in which low-income students can explore their civic identity, find mentors, and build community with others from similar socio-economic backgrounds. They may help to overcome a measure of the isolation that low-income students may experience in college, even as they create a space for transformative, experiential learning.
Supported by a BT2P Well-Being Research grant, faculty from the University of Wisconsin –– Milwaukee conducted a study of the experience of Americorps students. Participants completed community service at local nonprofit agencies in tandem with coursework on leadership development, community organizing, and service reflection. At the end of their service and coursework, they were eligible for an AmeriCorps Award of $1,100 to be applied to educational expenses or student loans.
The study found that participation in Americorps benefitted not only students’ civic identities, but also their learning outcomes and personal development. It tended to strengthen their sense of campus community, connections to mentors, and even career discernment. The study suggested that linking community service and financial assistance with training in leadership development and peer community-building increased the personal and academic benefits to the student participants.