A reward for service

AmeriCorps member Kat Shumway paints a mural with AmeriCorps alumni Patrick Harrington and Jim Fried on Sept. 17 celebrating 22 years of AmeriCorps service in Wyoming. A bill currently working its way through the Wyoming Legislature would allow nonresidents who served with AmeriCorps programs for at least one year in the state to attend the University of Wyoming or a Wyoming community college at in-state tuition rates. 

Photo courtesy of ServeWyoming

Certain AmeriCorps service members in Wyoming that came from outside of the state could qualify for in-state college tuition under a bill currently working its way through the Legislature.

House Bill 77 would allow those who’ve served in AmeriCorps — a federally-sponsored community service program — for at least one year in Wyoming to receive in-state tuition rates at the University of Wyoming or any of the state’s community colleges.

Of 243 AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members serving in Wyoming in 2016, 52 came from outside the state. Of those, 38 stayed in Wyoming, said Shelly McAlpin, executive director of ServeWyoming, an agency overseeing AmeriCorps in Wyoming.

“These people have taken up this opportunity — it’s a rewarding situation to be teachers and mentors and so on — and they’re here in our state, they have strong skills and we don’t want to lose them,” McAlpin said.

As part of a year’s service in AmeriCorps, McAlpin said members receive a scholarship of about $5,800 to go toward education. For those who spent that time in Wyoming, which usually involves about 40 hours per week of community service, she said it’d be good to allow service members to attend college in the state.

“When the conversation started, it was about trying to keep that talent in our state,” McAlpin said.

AmeriCorps members receive a federal stipend to support them during their time of service, McAlpin said. Though members are paying rent, paying sales tax on goods they purchase and serving Wyoming communities during that year, she said members aren’t considered residents and can’t qualify for in-state tuition.

“Those are deemed service hours, not work hours, so that’s where this bill came in,” McAlpin said. “It’s honoring that commitment and those hours they’ve given our state. … They’re already on the ground, doing work, but because it’s a federal program, it’s not considered work.”

Whether or not someone is familiar with the work AmeriCorps members do in the state, McAlpin said communities across Wyoming are affected.

“You’ll hear us say over and over again, AmeriCorps members are addressing some sort of critical need,” she said. “They’re receiving a modest living allowance while they’re doing things such as mentoring, teaching, reclamation work with Wyoming Conservation Corps, doing disaster response — you probably saw they were in Fremont County and Casper, a team came in and worked — they’re domestic violence educators with Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence across the state, they’re fighting for food security in Laramie with Feeding Laramie Valley, they’re helping veterans and military families. There’s a variety of different things they can be doing, but all of it is direct service in some capacity.”

A fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Service Office with information provided by UW and the Wyoming Community College Commission found the changes in tuition revenues that would result from the bill’s passage is indeterminable as its impossible to estimate the number of non-resident students that would otherwise not have enrolled without the opportunity for in-state tuition. However, for non-resident AmeriCorps students attending UW with 12 credit hours per semester that would qualify for resident tuition under the bill would save just less than $9,000 each year.

UW enrolls between 7-12 non-resident students each year employed through AmeriCorps programs. Should the bill pass, its estimated granting those 7-12 students in-state tuition would cost UW between about $62,000-$107,000 each year.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said it would be worth the cost to keep the service members in Wyoming.

“My justification is that it’s a small cost to the state at this moment, particularly when you compare that to the benefit the state derives from having talented, energetic young people who want to move to Wyoming,” he said. “I think if we look at the long run, it will be a small price to pay.”

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