National Service Could Pay for College Tuition

A bill introduced by Congressional Democrats would reward two years of service in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps with up to four years of college tuition.

Updated April 27, 2022

National Service Could Pay for College Tuition
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by Bill Clark / Contributor / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. / Getty Images

  • AmeriCorps and Peace Corps members currently enjoy limited educational benefits following full-time service.
  • This bill would increase those awards substantially.
  • Three previous versions of the proposal have failed to pass Congress.

Americans who serve at least two years in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps could see their college education paid for under a revived Democratic proposal.

The America's Call To Improve Opportunities Now (ACTION) for National Service Act was introduced last February by Sen. John Reed of Rhode Island and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut. Three previous attempts by Democrats to pass the bill failed.

The proposed legislation would award eligible students with funds totaling twice the national average of the yearly cost for in-state tuition and fees at public, four-year institutions for each year served.

A joint statement from Reed and Larson said the intent behind the bill is to make sure students who served can pay for four years of in-state tuition.

"As Americans, we take inspiration from those who have answered the call to serve, whether in defense of our nation abroad or strengthening our communities at home," Sen. Reed said in a statement. "This bill will grow our capacity to enlist, equip, and empower young people to address pressing challenges and give back to our nation while they earn money toward their education. It will increase volunteerism and strengthen our nation."

Former federal service members already have access to some college tuition benefits, but the proposed bill would expand this access. Under the current legislation, those who complete a term of full-time national service receive an educational award equal to the maximum federal Pell Grant. The maximum Pell Grant for the 2021-22 school year was $6,495.

The average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public university in the U.S. was $9,349 for the 2019-20 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The ACTION for National Service Act doesn't just add education benefits for those who served in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. It also:

  • Creates a Civilian Climate Corps to combat climate change
  • Expands the programs to support at least 1 million members each year by the end of 2031
  • Creates an outreach program to recruit more members
  • Raises stipends for AmeriCorps members

The bill has eight cosponsors in the Senate and 75 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, all of whom are Democrats. It also has the support of advocacy groups including Voices for National Service, Service Years Alliance, the Corps Network, and America's Service Commissions.

Larson's previous versions of the bill attracted 125 cosponsors in 2016, 164 in 2017, and 189 in 2019, according to GovTrack. The 2019 version saw the only time a Republican representative — Rep. Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey — signed as a cosponsor.

This latest introduction marks the first time lawmakers have proposed the bill with Democrats in control of the Senate, House of Representatives, and White House.