Clinton unveils 'community corps'

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - President Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail again yesterday, travelling to education centres in New Jersey and talking to the rock-video channel, MTV, as he unveiled plans for a nationalservice programme for young school-leavers, writes David Usborne.

The proposal, which won strong support during the election race, aims to widen access to higher education by giving students a chance to borrow college fees from the federal government and pay them off through subsequent voluntary community service, in schools, hospitals and police forces.

President Clinton outlined details of the plan at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, before taping an interview for an MTV special to be called Bill Clinton. Your Future, His Plan. An appearance on the rock channel last summer was critical in boosting President Clinton's image with younger voters.

The launch of the President's proposal was timed, meanwhile, to coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the creation of the Kennedy Peace Corps. Doubtless the President hopes that some of the spirit of youthful hope still associated with the Peace Corps will rub off in people's minds on his programme.

Introducing his plan, the President said that it would 'make higher education available to more people in return for the service they give their community'. In an essay in the New York Times, President Clinton, evoking the Peace Corps, said 'national service is an idea as old as America'.

The theory is that students would be given the opportunity either to complete community service before going on to college or university and receive credits in advance for tuition fees, or instead attend college first and pay off whatever government loan they had taken out with service afterwards.

For two years of study, they would be expected to do one year of service.

Meanwhile, students who did not want to do community service would be asked to pay off their loans after college as a percentage of their incomes in whatever jobs they found. Thus, if the graduates found themselves in low-paid jobs, their loan repayments would be proportionally reduced.

The programme will be slow in starting, however, and will never cover more than a fraction of those school-leavers who may be interested in participating. A first pilot programme is scheduled for this summer involving just 1,000 students.

By the end of Mr Clinton's presidency, it may have expanded to 100,000 students. At any one time there are about 5 million students attending college and taking government loans.

There is also criticism from some quarters that the national service programme effectively bribes young people to do community service in return for an education.

Some unions are concerned, moreover, that by placing young people in community service programmes, the government may displace regular, wage-earning workers.