Generation Y, Millennials: Surge in Serving America? Wayne Baker is away. This week, he has invited Media Director Gayle Campbell to write about the challenges faced by her generation. Here’s her third column …

Do you know where Generation Y is headed, besides into debt? Service! We seem to be flocking toward serving America. Today, we’ll look at why that poses other problems for our generation.

All this week, we’re looking at challenges facing Generation Y—those aged 18-29, sometimes called Millennials or even the Boomerang Generation. Yesterday, we looked at Millennials’ boundless optimism. As a generation, we’re restlessly searching for options. Some of us travel, some go back to school and many of us compete to the death for unpaid internships. What do these options all have in common? They’re incredibly expensive, and add to the huge debt Millennials will spend decades trying to pay off.

The average college student graduates $24,000 in debt. With alarming unemployment levels, this kind of debt leaves many students looking toward options such as federally funded service programs that defer or cancel student loans—especially Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or the Armed Forces. Recruitment numbers for all three have dramatically increased over the past five years. In fact, applicant numbers for AmeriCorps, which includes the popular Teach for America program, nearly tripled in the past two years.

Though these programs are often short-term, they offer young adults a meaningful way to pass the time as they wait for more career opportunities to open up. As a result, Millennials gain needed experience, make important connections, and give back to their communities and country.

Researchers maintain that other factors aside from the economy also contribute to the surge in service among young people. National tragedies, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, as well as President Obama’s call to service have encouraged Millennials to act for change.

Whatever is driving our generation in this direction, acceptance rates in these programs are edging toward the very employment numbers young adults are trying to avoid in a competitive job market. Teach for America, which boasts recruitment of the most “elite college graduates,” accepts a mere 12 percent of all applicants—a rate on par or lower than acceptance at most Ivy League universities. Most young adults looking into service programs are left in the same discouraging, unemployed position as before.

What are young graduates left to do? Teach for America promises to double the number of corps members it accepts by 2015, but is this enough to change prospects for the millions of Millennials?

What do you think? Will that help?

Should the government expand service programs?

Will service programs remain popular if the economy improves?

Please, Comment below before you leave.

(Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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