Altruism meets a weak job market

Mike Stewart is putting off law school in favor of teaching in Washington, D.C., for the next two years. Katherine Atwill, an Ivy League graduate, stopped interviewing at consulting firms in favor of teaching in the Bronx. Rebecca Graziano, at age 23, quickly gave up looking for work. “There's nothing out there right now,” says the Emory University graduate. She's heading to sub-Saharan Africa to work in youth development.

Young people like these are part of the growing ranks of college graduates who, amid a worsening job market, are contributing to a surge in applications and enlistments at public-service agencies like Teach for America and the Peace Corps. Indeed, only 59 percent of employers surveyed expect to hire 2008 graduates by the end of the summer, down from 76 percent the year before, according to a survey of about 1,000 employers by job-search company Monster Worldwide Inc.

But organizations cite another impulse behind this generation's embrace of nontraditional postgraduate employment: a simple desire to change the world. Anne Marie Chaker, Wall Street Journal

Teach for America

Teach for America, the nonprofit organization that sends college graduates to work in low-income public schools, saw applications jump 36 percent to 24,718 from 18,172 a year ago. Of those, about 3,700 are selected to teach in more than 100 school districts next fall – including Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Founded by a young Princeton University alumna in 1990, the organization recruits and trains top college graduates, who commit to two years of teaching in high-poverty urban and rural schools. Teachers are paid by the districts in which they work, with annual salaries typically ranging from $25,000 to $44,000.

Making a difference in the classroom is what prompted 21-year-old Atwill to sign up. In the fall of her senior year at New York's Columbia University, she braved the campus job-fair circuit, interviewing mostly with consulting firms. A double major in East Asian studies and creative writing, Atwill decided on the last round of interviews to ask: What do you really do every day?

“The response would be something like, ‘I worked on a report,'” she says. “It didn't seem like they were actually accomplishing things.”

That sense of accomplishment turns out to be a life-changer for some. Marissa Delahostria, who has now completed two years in Teach for America in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, also said she chose “to be a part of where the change is happening.” Delahostria, who earned a degree in advertising and communications from Xavier University, tried working in public relations at a museum before teaching language arts at J.T. Williams Middle School. She'll return to the classroom this month. “I may be a lifelong teacher,” she says.

The Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is expecting a 16 percent increase in applications for the fiscal year ending Oct. 1. Established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps sends volunteers to developing countries to work on education, agriculture and other projects. Enthusiasm for the program reached a peak of more than 15,000 volunteers in 1967 before spiraling downward, bottoming out at 5,219 in 1987. But participation has been climbing again in recent years: Fiscal 2007 saw more than 8,000 volunteers — a level not seen since the 1970s.

Graziano, who will likely be teaching English to students in Africa, says she eventually wants to go to graduate school, though she hasn't yet decided her field of study. In the interim, “I want to do something that makes me more competitive” as an applicant, she says. Volunteering in Africa, she says, “is a more valuable experience than working at some job, like a bank, for a few years.”

Volunteers like Graziano commit to 27 months of service and receive a stipend that allows them to live at the same standard as local people. At the end of their service, the volunteers – whose average age is 27 – receive $6,000 to be used any way they want in the next phase of their lives.


A domestic version of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, sends young workers to take on projects in impoverished cities and rural areas. The government-backed organization connects volunteers to a network of more than 4,000 local, state and national service organizations.

For most positions, AmeriCorps requires 1,700 hours of service – typically about a year – with volunteers receiving a living allowance of about $11,000 a year, plus an education award of $4,725 to be used toward college tuition or repayment of student loans. (Teach for America is one of the AmeriCorps member organizations where volunteers who complete their service qualify for the education grant.)

Jesuits and WorldTeach

Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which saw a 14 percent increase in applications through June of this year, sends mainly new college graduates to work in needy communities both domestically and around the world for as long as two years. And WorldTeach, a nonprofit affiliated with Harvard University, sends volunteers to teach English in developing countries. The organization saw applications among college-graduate volunteers increase by a third this year to 363.