Peace Corps: Status of the Educational Assistance Grants Demonstration Program (Letter Report, 02/25/94, GAO/NSIAD-94-89). More than three years have passed since the enactment of legislation encouraging a demonstration program that would give minority students financial aid in exchange for future Peace Corps service, but the program has yet to be fully implemented. As of January 1994, nine colleges and universities have agreed to participate, but no student has been awarded a grant. In GAO's view, it is too soon to tell whether the program will achieve its goals. Concerns have been raised by some university officials about the small size of the grants being awarded and the lack of Peace Corps visibility and presence on campuses to promote the program. School officials said that other student aid programs may be more attractive. --------------------------- Indexing Terms ----------------------------- REPORTNUM: NSIAD-94-89 TITLE: Peace Corps: Status of the Educational Assistance Grants Demonstration Program DATE: 02/25/94 SUBJECT: Personnel recruiting College students Americans employed abroad International relations Volunteer services Student financial aid Educational grants Colleges/universities Minorities Interagency relations IDENTIFIER: Peace Corps Educational Assistance Grant ************************************************************************** * This file contains an ASCII representation of the text of a GAO * * report. Delineations within the text indicating chapter titles, * * headings, and bullets are preserved. Major divisions and subdivisions * * of the text, such as Chapters, Sections, and Appendixes, are * * identified by double and single lines. 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We are unable to accept electronic orders * * for printed documents at this time. * ************************************************************************** Cover ================================================================ COVER Report to Congressional Committees February 1994 PEACE CORPS - STATUS OF THE EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE GRANTS DEMONSTRATION PROGRAM GAO/NSIAD-94-89 Peace Corps Abbreviations =============================================================== ABBREV Letter =============================================================== LETTER B-255970 February 25, 1994 The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy Chairman The Honorable Nancy L. Kassebaum Ranking Minority Member Committee on Labor and Human Resources United States Senate The Honorable William D. Ford Chairman The Honorable William F. Goodling Ranking Minority Member Committee on Education and Labor House of Representatives The National and Community Service Act of 1990 (P. L. 101-610), enacted in November 1990, authorized the establishment of a program for minority students to receive financial assistance grants in preparation and exchange for Peace Corps service.\1 The act established the Commission on National and Community Service,\2 and, among other things, authorized it to make grants to carry out the program. The act required us to evaluate this program and report to the appropriate committees 3 years after passage of the act. -------------------- \1 The Peace Corps has had difficulty in the past recruiting minority volunteers. See Peace Corps: Meeting the Challenges of the 1990s (GAO/NSIAD-90-122, May 18, 1990) and Peace Corps: Progress in Minority Representation (GAO/NSIAD-92-76, Jan. 13, 1992). \2 The Corporation for National and Community Service, established under the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, P.L. 103-82, succeeded and replaced the Commission on National and Community Service. BACKGROUND ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1 One of the goals of Public Law 101-610 was to enable young Americans of minority ethnicity to make a commitment to service in the Peace Corps by removing barriers created by the costs of higher education, loan indebtedness, and the cost of housing. The act limited eligibility for the program to individuals who (1) had completed at least 2 years of satisfactory study at an institution of higher education, were enrolled in a 4-year program culminating in a bachelor's degree, and who could complete the program within 2 years; (2) agreed upon graduation to serve a tour of 2 years as a Peace Corps volunteer; and (3) were selected through a competitive process established by the Peace Corps. The act limited participation in the demonstration program to not more than 50 individuals. The Commission and the Peace Corps reached agreement in February 1993 on a $100,000 demonstration program in which (1) a number of predominantly minority colleges and universities would receive funds to assist in recruiting and nominating qualified students for Peace Corps educational assistance grants and (2) educational assistance would be provided to up to 50 eligible junior and senior minority students from these institutions in exchange for Peace Corps volunteer service. A June 1993 addendum to the February agreement set the amount of the student grants at $1,000 per year, as proposed in the Peace Corps' January 1992 concept paper. RESULTS IN BRIEF ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2 More than 3 years have passed since the enactment of the legislation calling for a demonstration program for minority students to receive financial assistance in exchange for future Peace Corps service, but the demonstration program has not yet been fully implemented. As of January 1994, nine colleges and universities had agreed to participate in the program; however, no students had been awarded grants. Officials of the Commission on National and Community Service said the Peace Corps' program was given relatively lower priority because it was smaller than many of the other programs authorized by the legislation. Peace Corps officials said that the demonstration program could not be considered one of its high-priority programs given the funding level for the program. It is too early to tell whether the program the Peace Corps has designed will be effective in accomplishing its purposes. However, concerns have been raised by some university officials. Officials at several schools targeted to participate in the program told us that in their opinion, the $5,000 institutional grants and the $1,000-per year student grants were too small, and that the Peace Corps needed to increase its visibility and presence on their campuses to help promote the program. We did not determine what size the institutional and student grants should be; however, school officials indicated that other available student aid programs may be more attractive. Although the Commission had allocated $200,000 for the first year of the Peace Corps' program in March 1992, the Peace Corps chose initially to accept only $100,000 because it said it was already spending $11 million to recruit volunteers. PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION HAS BEEN SLOW ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3 Several factors contributed to the slow progress in implementing the demonstration program at the Peace Corps, including (1) not establishing the Commission's operational structure until 10 months after the legislation was enacted, (2) extended negotiations between the Commission and the Peace Corps, and (3) a longer than anticipated start-up period at the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps initially expected to have the program operational, with institution and student grants awarded, during the 1993 fall semester. However, Peace Corps officials now do not expect the program to be fully operational until mid-1994--almost 4 years after the legislation's passage. It will be at least another year after that before any student enters the Peace Corps under this program. Delays have occurred at both the Commission and the Peace Corps. Commission members were not appointed until September 1991, the Executive Director was not selected until October 1991, and the Commission's regulations were not adopted until February 1992. The Commission, therefore, was not yet fully operational when the Peace Corps submitted its initial program proposal in a concept paper in January 1992. (The Peace Corps initially requested program funding information from the Commission in November 1991, but was told to submit a program proposal in early 1992.) The Commission considered the proposal at its June 1992 meeting, and according to the Commission, it approved the Peace Corps' project at that time. A formal memorandum of understanding was signed on February 3, 1993, setting forth the program objectives, responsibilities, funding, and duration. Program funding became available in March 1993 when the Commission approved and obligated $100,000 in fiscal year 1993 funds, the amount requested by the Peace Corps. More specific objectives and program guidelines, including the amount of the educational assistance grants to students, were included in an addendum dated June 9, 1993. The absence of a program officer at the Commission contributed to the program's slow implementation. The program began gaining momentum in January 1993 after the Commission hired a consultant to, among other things, oversee the program. Commission officials acknowledged that they had given higher priority to the higher dollar value programs mandated by the legislation, and relatively less urgency to lower dollar value (under $1 million) programs such as the Peace Corps program. The Peace Corps program implementation hinges on the participation of selected colleges and universities. However, in most cases, the Peace Corps did not contact the targeted institutions until July 1993, about 18 months after it submitted its proposal to the Commission, and 5 months after the memorandum of understanding with the commission was signed. The Peace Corps' plan at that time was for the institutions to submit proposals for participation in the program by August 31, 1993; to review, evaluate, and approve the proposals; and to notify the selected institutions and nominated students of grant awards by January 1994. By September 1993, only three institutions had responded to the Peace Corps' invitation to participate in the program, and one additional university had submitted an unsolicited proposal. Between September 1993 and January 1994, agreements with five additional schools were reached, but no student grants had been awarded. PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4 The program, as designed, would consist of (1) grants to 8 to 10 predominantly minority colleges and universities to assist the Peace Corps in carrying out the program and (2) educational assistance grants to up to 50 qualified undergraduate students. Among other things, the program is to provide grants of up to $5,000 to selected colleges and universities, based on proposals submitted by the institutions and approved by the Peace Corps. The program targets mainly Historically Black Colleges and Universities and institutions among the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Participating institutions must agree to aid the Peace Corps in recruiting by promoting awareness of the Peace Corps and volunteer service benefits, identifying and recommending to prospective volunteers courses for which the Peace Corps has a special need, referring at least five qualified grant applicants from underrepresented groups, and submitting periodic progress reports to the Peace Corps. The 10 primary and 6 alternate colleges and universities targeted for the program were selected from among 92 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 25 members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and other institutions with high populations of underrepresented groups.\3 The institutions were targeted for consideration on the basis of the extent to which their courses and degree awards matched the special needs of the Peace Corps and on their commitment to implementing the program. Peace Corps officials at 15 area recruiting offices recommended institutions in their areas. Such recommendations were important considerations in making the final selections. The Peace Corp plan proposed awarding annual $1,000 educational assistance grants to up to 50 eligible undergraduate students who agree to participate in the program and upon graduation satisfactorily complete volunteer tours in the Peace Corps. Grant recipients must be junior or senior students from a participating college or university. If the $1,000 grant was awarded for a student's junior year, the student would be eligible for a second $1,000 grant for his or her senior year. Selection criteria limits grant recipients to enrolled students who are from traditionally underrepresented groups; recommended by their institutions based on interest in Peace Corps service, specialized courses taken, and financial needs; and expected to possess needed special skills. The program includes provision for the Peace Corps to recoup funds from grant recipients who fail to either complete their educational program or their tour of volunteer service. Decisions regarding waiver of repayment of defaulted grant monies will be made on a case-by-case basis by the Director of the Peace Corps. The Commission notified the Peace Corps in March 1993 that funds were available for immediate transfer to implement the demonstration program. The Commission had allocated $200,000 for the program for fiscal year 1993; however, the Peace Corps proposed to use and accepted only $100,000. Because grants were not awarded in fiscal year 1993, the Peace Corps carried the $100,000 over to fiscal year 1994. In September 1993, the Commission approved an additional $100,000 to continue the Peace Corps program into fiscal year 1995. In explaining the rationale for its proposed $100,000 program, the Acting Peace Corps Director told the Commission that $11 million of its annual budget was already being spent to recruit volunteers and that many more applicants were applying than could be accepted for volunteer service. The Acting Director also pointed out that the Peace Corps had made significant progress between 1990 and 1992 in recruiting minority volunteers, increasing its minority representation from 7 percent to 13 percent during the period. -------------------- \3 The primary and alternate institutions are listed in appendix I. The Peace Corps defined traditionally underrepresented groups as African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians. UNIVERSITY OFFICIALS EXPRESSED CONCERNS ABOUT THE PROGRAM ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5 To obtain the universities' perspectives on the Peace Corps' program proposal, we contacted officials at eight colleges and universities targeted by the Peace Corps, as well as an official from the institution that submitted an unsolicited proposal. The officials expressed several concerns about the program, including its tight implementation schedule and limited funding. They also commented on the Peace Corps' limited presence and visibility on their campuses. Several officials noted that the Peace Corps' proposals were received during the summer, when faculty and staff levels were significantly lower than when classes were in session, making it difficult to meet the August 31, 1993, response date. Officials at five of the nine institutions said the $5,000 grant was too small to cover the activities and expenses involved in administering the program, and would have to be supplemented from other university resources. Officials at six institutions said the $1,000-per year student grants may be too small to induce students to participate in the program. Most of the officials told us that the Peace Corps needs to increase its visibility and presence on their campuses if sustained, increased minority recruitment is to be achieved. They said increased Peace Corps recruitment efforts and greater visibility on campus would help them promote the program. AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR EVALUATION ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6 The Commission (now the Corporation for National and Community Service) agreed with the facts presented in our report, and stated that the Peace Corps demonstration program was not implemented as quickly as other programs authorized by the National and Community Service Act of 1990. However, the Commission asserted that progress in implementing the program had not been slow. The Peace Corps stated that it was not responsible for any of the delays in program implementation, and said it could have done nothing to implement the program more rapidly. It further stated that the program as designed will meet the goals of the act. We believe that delays at both the Commission and the Peace Corps have contributed to the slow implementation, and more than 3 years after enactment of the legislation, the program had not progressed to a point where any meaningful assessment of the program could be made. SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY ------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7 In conducting our review, we reviewed pertinent legislation, source documents, and files on the Peace Corps preparatory grant recruitment program. We interviewed Peace Corps, Commission on National and Community Service, and Department of Education officials in Washington, D.C., and selected college and university officials, and reviewed documents regarding funding, planning, development, and implementation of the program. Our review did not include determining what sizes the institution and student grants to be awarded under the program would need to be to induce appropriate participation. We conducted our review between June 1993 and January 1994 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. The Corporation for National and Community Service and the Peace Corps provided written comments on a draft of this report. Their comments are reprinted in appendixes II and III, respectively. ---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :7.1 We are sending copies of this report to the Chairmen, Senate and House Committees on Appropriations, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and House Committee on Foreign Affairs; the Director of the Peace Corps; the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service; and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. We will also make copies available to others upon request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please call me at (202) 512-4128. Major contributors to this report were David R. Martin, Assistant Director, and Wyley Neal, Evaluator-in-Charge. Joseph E. Kelley Director-in-Charge International Affairs Issues COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES TARGETED FOR THE PEACE CORPS PREPARATORY GRANT PROGRAM =========================================================== Appendix I PRIMARY SCHOOLS --------------------------------------------------------- Appendix I:1 Alabama A&M, Normal, Alabama California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio Delaware State College, Dover, Delaware Florida International University, Miami, Florida Herbert A. Lehman College, Bronx, New York\2 New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, New Mexico North Carolina A&T, Greensboro, North Carolina Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Note: One of 10 primary universities and colleges was deleted by the Peace Corps after we found that it did not meet the Peace Corps' selection criteria. -------------------- \2 Lehman College was replaced by Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. ALTERNATE SCHOOLS --------------------------------------------------------- Appendix I:2 Atlanta University Complex, includes Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown University, and Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Florida Paul Quinn College, Dallas, Texas Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, Texas Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama (See figure in printed edition.)Appendix II COMMENTS FROM THE CORPORATION FOR NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY SERVICE =========================================================== Appendix I (See figure in printed edition.) GAO COMMENTS 1. While time frames were not specified in the November 1990 legislation, Congress clearly expected the program to be far enough along by October 1993 for us to evaluate its effectiveness. As discussed in this report, program implementation still has not progressed to the point where any meaningful evaluation can be made. Therefore, we believe "slow progress" is an apt characterization. Nevertheless, we have modified the title of the report to overcome the concerns as to which entity was most responsible for the delays. 2. Although the Commission approved in principle a demonstration program for the Peace Corps, it should be noted that final agreement on the program was not reached until 1 year later in June 1993. (See figure in printed edition.)Appendix III COMMENTS FROM THE PEACE CORPS =========================================================== Appendix I (See figure in printed edition.) (See figure in printed edition.) (See figure in printed edition.) (See figure in printed edition.) 3 and 6. (See figure in printed edition.) The following are GAO's comments on the Peace Corps' letter dated January 4, 1994. GAO COMMENTS 1. Our report clearly shows that the Commission shares in the culpability for the slow start. Nevertheless, documentary evidence provided by the Peace Corps shows that it submitted the demonstration program concept paper to the Commission on January 8, 1992, and followed up with its tentative plan for the demonstration program in March 1992. By June 1992, the Commission had approved the Peace Corps' proposal in principle, and by September 1992, had allocated $200,000 for the Peace Corps' demonstration program. While the legislation did not specify a time frame within which Congress expected the program to be implemented, Congress clearly expected the program to be far enough along for us to evaluate its effectiveness by October 1993. As stated in this report, no minority student had received any financial assistance more than 3 years after the legislation was enacted. It is still too early to tell whether the program will be effective in increasing the number of minority volunteers in the Peace Corps. 2. We agree that it remains to be seen whether the Peace Corps' decision on the program design was correct. However, we believe that concerns raised by a number of college and university administrators, who regularly deal with student aid programs, should not be offhandedly dismissed. They represent a key to the success of the program as the Peace Corps has designed the program. 3. Agreements with five of the nine colleges and universities were finalized between late September 1993 and January 1994. 4. Evaluating the Peace Corps' minority recruitment program was beyond the scope of this review, and we have deleted these observations from our final report. 5. We believe the Peace Corps did not have to wait until the May to July 1993 time frame to begin contacting schools. It should be remembered that (1) the legislation was enacted in November 1990 and (2) the Commission agreed in principle to the program in June 1992. 6. These matters have been considered and are discussed in our report as appropriate. 7. According to a transcript of the Commission's proceedings, the Acting Director of the Peace Corps made this connection in discussing the Peace Corps program with the Commission on March 30, 1992. 8. The Peace Corps' letter dated July 12, 1993, to the universities states that grants were expected to be awarded to students for the spring 1994 term by January 1, 1994. However, as indicated in this report, delays in program implementation had already occurred before the schedule was established.