Roosevelt Scholars Act could give jobs to college graduates

The Roosevelt Scholars Act of 2009 is currently circulating in Congress and if passed, would provide scholarships for students in exchange for their working for the federal government immediately after their college graduation. Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Mike Castle (R-DE) introduced the bill in the United States House of Representatives July 31; a similar bill was introduced in the Senate Nov. 17.

Legislators are supporting this bill because of a need to fill more than 273,000 jobs in important federal agencies that will soon be vacant due to a high number of retiring employees. However, in the past, many college graduates have not sought government service because of their staggering levels of college expenses debt and the relatively low wages offered by federal jobs. The new bill hopes to break this pattern.

“Once selected for the program, scholars are expected to participate in an internship [for] a federal agency and come back to their campus and serve as an ambassador for the federal government and [as a] resource to their peers and [the] office of career services,” said Margot Conrad who is the Government Affairs Manager for the Partnership for Public Service.. “Upon completion of their degree, scholars must make a three-to-five year commitment to [work] for the federal government. Scholars receive tuition, room and board and a small stipend, not to exceed $60,000 a year for a maximum of five years.”

Because many employees in federal agencies have begun to reach the age of retirement, the pool of people eligible to hold government jobs has dramatically decreased.

“Our federal government faces a workforce crisis as experienced workers begin to retire and there is a shortage of talent available to replace them,” Maryland state delegate and CHS parent Brian Feldman said. “I also think this program can raise awareness about federal opportunities and could help rebrand the government as a place where our best and brightest young people [look] to for jobs.”

According to the official Partnership for Public Service website, more than 140 leaders of colleges and universities, nonprofits, associations and government organizations have signed a letter of support which is currently circulating on Capitol Hill. A full list of supporters as well as an online petition is available on the website www.ourpublicservice.org/roosevelt.

The bill applies to those studying in mission-critical fields that the Office of Personnel Management and various federal agencies will identify as being critical to their long-term hiring needs. These include areas of engineering, hard sciences, public health, IT, foreign languages and law. While the current bill in the House applies solely to graduate-level scholarships, the version of the bill in the Senate offers scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate-level education.

“The legislation does not specify a certain number of scholarships that would be awarded on an annual basis,” Conrad said. “The program would likely start small and grow over time. Given the funding levels [of] the bill, we’d imagine there would be roughly 50 students in the first [group] of scholars.”

To be eligible, an applicant must be nominated by a faculty member or representative of the institution they are currently enrolled in, have graduated from, or that they are seeking admission to, or by another individual approved by the foundation. The student also must be enrolled currently in an accredited university in order to receive funding. There are no family income restrictions to the bill.

“The greatest challenge right now is simply trying to spread the word about the bill,” Conrad said. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, but we constantly encourage people to sign the online petition and call their members of Congress and urge them to cosponsor the bill.”