The U.S. Service Academies at West Point, Annapolis and Colorado Springs train and produce the men and women who have guided our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to become the most powerful armed services in the world. Historically, these institutions have played a crucial role in staffing our military with the highest quality officers.
But in the civil service, and more generally the public sector, no such government backed institution exists. In ten years, 90 percent of our nation’s civil service federal executives will be over the age of 50 and many will be nearing retirement. Two million new teachers will be needed in the next ten years. Non-profit organizations will need to attract and develop 640,000 new managers by 2016. This coming brain drain threatens the stability and functioning of our public and non-profit sectors and has yet to be adequately addressed.
In order to confront this growing problem and to provide an institution to develop the public service leaders of tomorrow, this week, Senators Hilary Clinton (D-NY) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and I introduced legislation to create the country’s first ever national civilian university.
Known as the “United States Public Service Academy Act” (The PSA Act), this bill would create an undergraduate institution designed to cultivate and groom a new generation of young leaders dedicated to public service. Modeled after the military service academies, the Public Service Academy will provide a four-year, federally-subsidized college education for more than 5,000 students a year. In return, graduates must commit to serving at least five years in the public sector. Eligible fields of service would include public education, public health, law enforcement, government and non-profit organizations.
At a time when support for public service is growing, the U.S. Public Service Academy would likely become the pre-eminent place of higher learning for those looking to dedicate their lives to the public good. A recent study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute found that more than two-thirds of the 2005 freshman class expressed a desire to serve others, the highest rate in a generation. Publicly-funded service programs, including AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, are experiencing a large increase in applications in recent years. Clearly, there is a sense of purpose and devotion to the common good in the hearts of our nation’s young people.
But the sad fact is that the rising costs of a secondary education make taking a job after college in the public sector less monetarily feasible each year. In the past decade, college tuition has increased by 47 percent at private schools and 63 percent at public institutions. As a result, the average college graduate owes about $20,000, an increase of more than 50 percent in the past decade. The drive to pay off these loans as quickly as possible is strong motivation for new grads to join the private sector. It is my hope that the U.S. Public Service Academy will offer thousands of tomorrow’s leaders the opportunity to pursue their dreams by eliminating this strong fiscal disincentive.