This paper presents an examination and evaluation of the impact of a policy at the grassroots level. The policy under investigation is the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program policy governing VISTA members’ participation in education courses. First, a brief history of the AmeriCorps VISTA program will be provided. A review of policy details will follow. Then, a summary of perspectives regarding the impact of the policy on the part of VISTA members is presented from data collected through interviews and observations. Finally, an evaluation of the findings and their relevance to the program is offered.
AmeriCorps VISTA Program History
According to the timeline available in Getting Started: A Guide for AmeriCorps Members (Corporation, n.d.a), the foundation upon which AmeriCorps was established began with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The GI Bill of 1944 first generated the link between service and education, with education awards available to veterans who served the country during World War II. In 1961, John Kennedy created the Peace Corps, to which AmeriCorps is often compared as the domestic equivalent. Volunteers in Service to America, a program which also enjoys education awards, was first established in 1964 “giving Americans opportunities to serve full-time to help thousands of low-income communities” (Corporation, n.d.a, p. 12). VISTA is a capacity building program which places VISTA members in administrative (non-clerical) positions within community organizations throughout the U.S. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the newly established AmeriCorps, a national program developed as a result of the Clinton Administration’s National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. “The first class of AmeriCorps members–20,000 strong–[began] serving more than 1,000 communities” (Corporation, n.d.a, p. 13) in September of 1994.
National VISTA policy governing VISTA participation in education courses prohibits full or part-time enrollment in an educational institution except in specific and narrow circumstances. Those circumstances include enrollment in education courses which relate to the VISTA project or the VISTA’s career development plan, Advance approval from project supervisor and the Corporation State Director, no scheduling interference with assigned VISTA project duties and responsibilities. In addition, course load is not to exceed six semester hours per year, the amount necessary to maintain partial federal Pell grant eligibility (Corporation, n.d.b). Furthermore, neglect to obtain pre-approval by the project supervisor and the Corporation State Director qualifies as grounds for dismissal.
Upon speaking with VISTA members, perspectives revealed variation in the policy parameters. All VISTA members interviewed understand that there are policy restrictions on their participation in...