A National Service Pilot Project
by Donald J. Eberly - 1971
Discusses the need for and design of a National Service Pilot Project. (Source: ERIC)
"Overnight, you'll have a million kids on your hands, and it will be the biggest boondoggle in history." So goes one of the more eye-catching arguments against national service. What this criticism fails to consider, however, is that most serious proponents of national service advocate not a crash program but a transition period of three to five years to build up enrollment to a plateau of one to two million persons. The need at present centers on designing a true pilot project to test the feasibility of a full-scale national service.
Experience with youth service programs over the past decade has permitted an acceleration of the recommended developmental period, but as yet there has been no true national service pilot project. The Peace Corps, VISTA, and the Teacher Corps are small programs (none enrolls as many as 10,000 participants), widely dispersed, and highly selective. The Neighborhood Youth Corps and Job Corps are exclusive programs (participants must be educationally and financially poor) with underdeveloped service components.
Still these programs have helped to pave the way for national service. Skeptics who thought young people were not wanted or could not perform competently in overseas assignments were proved wrong by the work of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of applicants for the Job Corps destroyed the myth that only a compulsory program could reach poor, uneducated young people, and the effective tutorial services of the Neighborhood Youth Corps demolished the thesis that such young people were suitable only for menial tasks.
These programs are also teaching us where they fall short of the national service ideal. For example, many VISTA volunteers have felt frustrated with their inability to effect the reforms which they want and society needs. Some have concluded that the necessary reforms could never be achieved through service; an overthrow of the system was required. What has not been tested is the potential of a full-scale service program. Suppose, for example, the Teacher Corps, in cooperation with the local school board, teachers' union, parents, students, and colleges, were to recruit young people to augment the teaching staff of city schools to bring the teacher-pupil ratio to the level of private schools. The ratio might drop from, say, 1:30 to 1:12. Until we know the true impact of this approach, and similar ones in such fields as health, environment, and protection, we cannot rule out the national service idea as an agent of change.
The longer the United States delays experimentation with national service, the more rapidly does it approach the time when a crash program may be needed. Our record is less dismal than one might guess. The Civilian Conservation Corps was our major successful mobilization program of youthful manpower for nonmilitary purposes. Within three months of the day it became law in 1933, some 275,000 young men were enrolled in CCC camps.
Although unemployment figures have not reached the crisis level of 1933, the combined effect of rising unemployment, youthful alienation, societal needs, and the lock-step of education appears to be leading us toward a crisis of similar proportions. While there is still time, it is only common sense to test a program designed to meet the basic needs of youth and society and which, as a byproduct, might avert the looming crisis. Moreover, such a test is long overdue. National service pilot projects were recommended in 1967 by the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service and by the National Service Conference, in 1969 by the Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children, and in 1970 by the President's Commission on Campus Unrest.
Skeptics of national service probably will look upon such projects as test cases, the results of these pilot projects to determine whether or not a full-scale program should be undertaken. National service proponents, on the other hand, will likely consider the results as a demonstration of the enormous potential of the national service concept.
Whatever the pilot projects prove to be, this paper looks upon them primarily as empirical research. A theoretical basis for national service has been defined. A national service concept has been put forward and examined, the expected benefits tabulated, the costs estimated, the probable impact on the draft, on education, on society, considered. Viewed as a seed, national service has been quite thoroughly analyzed. Now it is time to plant seed, several of them, in different kinds of soil, and in various types of weather. Then, when the fruit has been harvested, we can determine what next for national service.
Before designing test projects, we must first ask what it is we want to discover. Then we can design the projects to most efficiently meet our objectives.
Assumptions This paper is based on the kind of national service program outlined in a ten-point Statement on National Volunteer Service,' which has drawn the endorsement of many of the strongest advocates of national service. The statement reads as follows:
The zeal of young people to build a better society has never been clearer than it is now. Yet opportunities to work constructively for a better society are limited. Compared to national needs, relatively few jobs in the service fields are available to young men and women.
Still, the service needed by society—in such fields as education, health, conservation and municipal services—is enormous. Many of these needs could be met by young people, those who are asking for relevance in education, for a chance to meet their service responsibility outside the armed forces, and for first-hand experience with problems whose outcomes will determine the kind of world to be passed on to their children.
In order to meet many of our most pressing needs and to permit young men and women to become engaged in the building of a better society, WE ENDORSE A PROGRAM OF NATIONAL VOLUNTEER SERVICE, which would have these basic features:
Profile of Need How many tutors are needed? How many to work on health projects? How many conservationists? How many to assist city officials in the delivery of human services?
In the absence of more recent data, major reliance for theoretical estimates of need is placed on two six-year-old reports, one prepared by the National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress, the other by Green-leigh Associates for the Office of Economic Opportunity. Both reports estimated the need for sub-professional workers in public service fields, as shown in Tables P and II.3
Based on these estimates, a subsequent reordering of national priorities (e. g. beautification must now be subsumed under environmental concerns), and my experience with youth service programs, such as, the Atlanta Urban Corps, I compiled in 1970 a revised estimate of needs, as shown in Table III.4 For purposes of planning pilot projects, it is suggested that Table III serve as the profile of need until harder data become available.
Who Will Serve? What young people will choose to participate in national service? Will they be rich or poor? Black or white? Male or female? High school dropouts or college graduates?
Survey data are available on these questions from three polls taken in recent years. Poll Number 89 of the Purdue Opinion Panel asked a representative sample of high school students this question:
Instead of being drafted into the armed forces, suppose every person, male or female, could spend one year working in some way for his country to solve its problems. For which of these would you be willing to work a year? (Answer only one.)
A) Poverty: slums, ghettoes, welfare programs, housing, etc.
B) Conservation: air, water, pollution, etc.
C) Education: improve and expand
D) Race problems: provide equal opportunity
E) Some other than above; or would not be willing to work a year5
Estimated Needs and Educational Requirements for National Service Participants (numbers in thousands)
Four years earlier, in April 1966, the Gallup Organization asked college students this question:
VISTA is a federal program made up of volunteers who live and work among the poor in depressed areas of the nation. Do .you think you would have any interest in working in this program, either on a full-time or a part-time basis?6
Results for a selected group of teen-age girls are found in a survey conducted for Seventeen magazine in February 1969. It asked a sample of their subscribers this question concerning voluntary national service:
Would you personally volunteer to serve for a year in such a program?7
These and related questions in the three surveys yielded responses which suggest theoretical answers to several questions that pilot projects could be expected to answer empirically:
The surveys are not helpful in forecasting how many men would opt for civilian service as against military service. At any rate, the major determinants, such as, war and level of unemployment, would not be controllable by pilot project administrators.
Should the nation decide to commit itself to the draft and to national service, then pilot projects should test the influence on enrollment of such controllable variables as rates of pay, duration of enlistment, and postservice benefits.
Should the nation decide to commit itself to a volunteer military force and a standby draft only, the pilot projects should test the option plan for national service to discover how much money in incentive pay and amenities for persons in the military could be saved by instituting a program of national service.
What Will Be Accomplished? This is the most difficult area to take measurements. What is the value to a person learning at age twenty, instead of age fifty, that a career in which he serves his fellow man would be more rewarding? What is the value to society of motivating 1,000 young people to enter legitimate careers instead of the world of crime? What is the value to the economy of looking after 4,000,000 infants of working mothers?
The direct financial aspects of these acts could be estimated fairly accurately. The social and personal benefits, however, do not lend themselves to easy quantification. One approach is to compare the cost of national service benefits to the cost of the same benefits obtained through alternative means.
Consider, for example, a National Service Highway Safety Patrol Corps. Although Corps members would carry no guns and have no power of arrest, it is postulated that their presence on the highways would deter speeders and reduce fatalities. Corpsmen would administer first aid to accident victims and with the aid of helicopters attached to each Corps unit assist in rushing victims to hospitals.
Benefits to participants would include training in auto mechanics, first aid, electronic equipment maintenance, helicopter operation, and career guidance. Attitudinal changes on such subjects as age, race, nationality, education, and family income could also be examined.
The total benefits accruing from the Patrol Corps and comparable programs in other major areas, such as, education, health, and conservation, would be quantified, and the cost compared with the cost of achieving the same benefits through alternate methods. The results would indicate those areas in which national service was the most economical means to a set of objectives and those in which it was the most costly.
To be useful, project goals must be fairly specific. With the highway safety project, for example, the objectives might include the items in Table IV.
Clearly, if goals are to be measured with a fair degree of accuracy and have significance, the test projects would have to be concentrated. It would be very hard to measure the impact of 1,000 highway safety patrolmen spread throughout the country, but relatively easy to measure their impact if confined to one state.
Designing a Pilot Project Although numerous questions have been posed on the national service concept, they cannot be answered independently of each other. National service is not simply the provision of manpower, such as, the assignment of a highway safety patrolman to a dangerous intersection. It is not simply the education offered to participants. Nor is national service simply an opportunity offered young people to experiment with public service careers, to travel, to find alternatives to the draft and the lock-step of education. National service is all of these things, and the profile of motivations and benefits of a national service experience would be unique to each participant. So, if national service is to be tested properly, the experiment must be comprehensive and conducted on a fairly large scale.
As indicated earlier, the main thrust of this empirical research project appears to fall into the following three categories:
1. What are the needs?
2. Who will meet them?
3. What will be accomplished?
First, all national service projects will involve the interaction of national service participants and other human beings. Hence it will be important for the participants not only to be needed, but also to be wanted by the local residents. Ideally, a community would initiate a request for a test project, would design the project, would provide for training and supervision of participants, and would evaluate the completed project. The actual sponsor, which might be the board of education, a local hospital, or a new consortium, would have to demonstrate broad-based community support.
Proper receptivity to national service cannot be overstated. For this reason our test criteria cannot be too rigid. It would be preferable, for example, to test national service in an area that is 25 percent black and receptive than one that is precisely 11 percent black and hostile. This factor is not simply the hope of a national service protagonist. Testing national service in a hostile area means a built-in negative bias, probable failure, and the likelihood that the national service researchers will never have their questions answered.
The second constraint concerns finding an adequate number of competent, middle-level personnel to fill positions created by a test project. In our highway safety project, for example, we would need a helicopter instructor and a number of other supervisory personnel. No doubt they can be found, but if we have to go outside the test area to locate such individuals, it is likely that we would not yet be ready to launch the highway safety program on a nationwide basis.
A third constraint arises if the number of positions and the number of applicants are unequal. To permit a need to go unfilled, or an applicant to be rejected for lack of opportunity, would damage the credibility of the whole operation. Reservoirs should be established. If needs exceed participants, the project should be able to recruit outside persons and to include them in the project. If participants exceed needs, similar projects elsewhere should be started.
These fringe considerations probably would entail higher unit costs, but they are, nevertheless, essential to a thorough test of the idea. For they are what differentiates national service from VISTA and other limited programs. Young people must be guaranteed a chance to serve. And public service agencies must be assured the help they request. Without such guarantees the project degenerates into another token effort. With them, we can discover whether national service is as powerful a program as it is an idea.
The Resources Project Several possibilities exist for the Resources Project. To determine the size and nature of the universe of persons who would enroll, national service could be open to all whose birthdays fell on a specified date, or whose last name began with a certain letter. Either of these approaches would assure recruits from all over the country. In terms of local impact, however, either alternative would dilute the pilot project. So few persons would enroll from any single area that it would be difficult to measure the effect on schools, business, crime rate, and so on.
The most useful approach from a research viewpoint would open the pilot project to all young people in a given geographic area. By means of the gerrymander principle, a standard metropolitan area could be expanded to include some rural areas, thereby defining a population whose socioeconomic characteristics typify the United States as a whole. Not only would such an approach facilitate studying the impact of national service, but it would also reduce the costs of recruitment and otherwise add to the efficiency of the test project.
The minimum population of the test area should be 1,000,000. This writer has earlier suggested that a national service program would enroll some 2,000,000 young people, or about 1 percent of the total population.8 Let us assume that we could expect to enroll 1 percent of the population in the pilot project. With some 10,000 participants, the project should yield results that would be predictive of a nationwide national service program.
Do the prescribed test areas exist? They certainly do. According to the 1970 census, 15 states and 54 metropolitan areas have population totals between the suggested limits of 500,000 and 2,000,000. These examples are cited not to rule out other test sites, such as multistate regions and individual city boroughs, but merely to indicate the number of options within a fairly narrow population range.
A firm decision on the test project would have to be made a year before the operation begins. Even before the decision is made, however, cooperation with the local citizenry would have to be secured and the funds appropriated. In the year after the decision, the staff would set up the necessary machinery, an independent research team organized to make measurements, and positions found for the estimated 10,000 participants.
In designing and implementing the pilot projects, it will be helpful for planning purposes to have some notional figures. A solely qualitative approach would result in great variations in the assumptions of staff members as to the number of participants. A possible breakdown for the Resources Project is given in Table V.
The Needs Project By definition, the Needs Project must be concentrated. Places for 2,500 educational aides could easily be found throughout the country, but that experience would tell us little about total nationwide demand. Hence the Needs Project should be undertaken in an area comparable in size to the Resources Project.
Unlike the Resources Project, however, the Needs Project can be divided by category. In fact, more accurate estimates of nationwide demand probably would result from conducting sub-projects in separate localities than from having all projects in the same place.
By having each of the Needs Projects tested in different communities, different administrative approaches could be tried, and it will not be an all-or-nothing proposition. By encouraging local officials to use the administrative procedures that seem best for their needs, it would be possible to examine the similarities and differences in procedure, and to determine which matters should be made a condition of participation in national service projects and which should be set locally. Furthermore, project dispersal would place less strain on the communities where the sub-projects took place. If all were concentrated in one locality, it would be comparable to launching a nationwide program of 2,000,000 participants with no build-up period!
One of the Needs Projects should be tested in the same area as the Resources Project. In doing so, we should be able to determine the number and types of young people who opt for local service, and to examine the comparative results of such service.
Just how the projects would be divided would depend heavily on the nature of the proposals. An advisory board to the pilot project could review the proposals and award contracts in a manner to most nearly achieve a nationwide program in miniature.
The Results Project While the sponsoring organization in each participating community would be responsible for basic record keeping, an independent agency should be engaged to audit such records and otherwise to evaluate and interpret the results.
Such an agency would conduct its research in accordance with the project objectives. It would fully describe the resources and needs and explain in detail the extent to which the objectives were met. Evaluation studies would begin when the sites were chosen and would continue throughout the life of the project.
In addition, provision should be made for other persons wishing to evaluate the national service pilot project. The aforementioned advisory board could rule on the legitimacy of such requests and minimize the effect of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle by keeping research studies from seriously affecting the project itself.
In summary, we have designed a pilot project to test the national service concept. Always difficult to define simply, the three components of the project are shown graphically in Figure 1 (available in the hard copy of the original publication). Such a three-dimensional matrix suggests the interrelationships among the components and could be an informative way of presenting data on the project.