U Teach for America numbers surge


The University of Minnesota followed a national trend of record-breaking Teach for America (TFA) numbers, with 38 recent graduates joining the organization to teach in high-need schools this fall.

This trend of high involvement in community service has been seen in numerous national service organizations, and has been said to sprout from President Barack Obama ’s push for community service, the economic recession and, most simply, a surge in altruism.

Shelby Rohrer , the University’s TFA campus representative, said 3 percent of the 2009 graduating class applied to TFA this year. Of this group, 38 graduates were accepted into the program for this fall.

Last year, 25 graduates joined; in 2006 and 2007, 20 and 22 joined, respectively.

National TFA spokeswoman Lorraine Anderson said 35,000 individuals applied for TFA nationally, and a record-breaking 4,100 of those applicants joined , compared to 3,613 new members in fall 2008 and 2,892 in 2007 .

These numbers show a 25 percent increase from 2007 to 2008 and a 14 percent increase from 2008 to this year.

Sandy Scott, spokesman for the Corporation for National and Community Service , said national nonprofit network AmeriCorps saw an “extraordinary explosion of applications” in the past year.

An AmeriCorps report written last month reported 35,922 May 2009 online applications, three times as many applications as last May, when 11,262 applied.

TFA and the economy

Ryane Hibbs , a 2008 University graduate currently teaching middle school history through TFA in Texas, said she thought the economy was a reason for the increase in TFA applicants. This is because the program secures each teacher a job for two years.

During this time, the TFA teachers’ salaries range from approximately $27,000 to $47,000 , depending on the teacher’s background and where the school is located, according to the organization’s Web site.

Obama’s role

Rohrer said Obama’s push for community service was a major reason for the increase in enthusiasm for TFA throughout the country.

“He has referenced Teach for America in multiple speeches … There’s just a lot more awareness around this issue, and around the amount of impact current college graduates can have in affecting this change,” Rohrer said.

Peace Corps online applications increased 175 percent around the time of Obama’s inauguration, according to data from Peace Corps spokeswoman Allison Price .

Recent University graduate Aneesh Sohoni will be teaching high school English at Minneapolis specialty school Opportunity High School with TFA this fall.

This year marks the first year TFA teachers can teach at a school in the Twin Cities, as the organization recently announced its expansion to add the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Center school districts as its 35th region .

However, this expansion was not a main reason for the jump in University graduates’ applications, as Rohrer said only three recent graduates and three past graduates of the University will be teaching in the Twin Cities region this fall.

Sohoni agreed that Obama played a definite role in the increase of TFA applications.

“Something that President Obama has mentioned many times is that our younger generation is definitely trying to strive for civil service, trying to join more programs like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps , and so I think that definitely played a big part in a lot more people applying,” Sohoni said.

The AmeriCorps report labeled this trend the “Obama effect,” and said Obama’s calls to service are one of the possible reasons for the increase in AmeriCorps applications.

“It’s striking a responsive chord with a very receptive generation,” Scott said.

‘A strong altruistic streak’

The AmeriCorps report also credited the surge in popularity of community service programs to “a strong altruistic streak.”

The report cited a University of California study that showed two-thirds of first-year students believe it is important to help others; this figure is at its highest in the past 25 years.

Scott said this has to do with the popularity of community service through elementary and secondary schools — the report said 86 percent of high schools offer or encourage community service — as well as recent national events.

“Catastrophic events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina , and more recently the economic downturn, are a wake-up call and a call to action for people of all ages, but especially college-aged youth,” Scott said.

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