MediaWatch: April 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 4


A program which gets young Americans to volunteer to serve their community, from renovating houses for the homeless to cleaning up parks. How could anyone oppose such a well-meaning Clinton initiative? Conservatives know it's not so simple.

On the March 13 NBC Nightly News Lisa Myers scrutinized Americorps, the federal program that in essence pays students to be volunteers. Myers examined the pros and cons of President Clinton's favorite government initiative that so far has received a passing grade from the media. Myers opened the segment by interviewing enthusiastic students but asked: "So Americorps is supposed to be the essence of the American spirit: lifting people up and helping the community. But is it?" Myers went to a soundbite from Republican Senator Charles Grassley condemning Americorps as "a financial mess."

Myers expounded on the Senator's point: "In fact, two private accounting firms found that Americorps' books can't be audited, millions unaccounted for. Beyond that, there is an even bigger issue. Critics concede that Americorps does change lives, but they question the cost. A new government report finds that at some locations the cost for each young person who actually ends up going on to college can be staggering. Congress' General Accounting Office found that 39 percent of kids drop out of Americorps, and that so far only about half, 54 percent, of those who do finish, actually go on to college or vocational schools." Myers pointed out the "principal aim@ of the program is to get students through college but the cost per student is very high. Myers noted: "One program in California costs about $32,000 per student who may go on to college. Others, like the Casa Verde program in Austin, Texas, cost far more. Here, it's about $100,000 per student."

Former Democratic Senator Harris Wofford was quoted in the piece defending the program. He claimed Americorps students rehabilitated neighborhoods and received tutoring. However, Myers concluded: "Still congressional critics say Americorps has one more year to get itself on track or they'll go all out to kill it, well-intentioned or not."