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Clinton Unveils National Service Program to Foster Civic Spirit

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.

Recalling the memory of the Peace Corps on its 32nd birthday, President Clinton Monday unveiled a national service program he said would foster a new civic spirit while helping finance the education of a generation.

Clinton, speaking to college students at Rutgers University, invited young people to give one or two years of their lives to work as tutors, health-care aides, police cadets or anti-pollution workers in exchange for help with college costs.

"I came here to ask all of you to join me in a great national adventure," Clinton told the audience, describing the plan as "something I believe in the next few years will change America forever -- and for the better."

If Congress approves the program, the national service effort would begin this summer with a small, $15 million pilot demonstration, and, according to plans, grow each year until the price tag for its first four years totals $7.4 billion.

As in the campaign, the blueprint includes two elements: The service program, and a new college aid loan program that would allow students to borrow their college costs, then repay them over time as a small percentage of their income.

The second element is intended to allow young people to take low-paying but socially beneficial jobs without worrying about bearing the burden of their loan costs. Its advocates argue that by replacing government-guaranteed loans with direct government loans, the program would eliminate lender costs and save some money.

The national service plan has been widely viewed as one of the most appealing parts of the Clinton program, and was mentioned, often to loud applause, in his campaign speeches. The plan appeals to young people and parents worried about college costs, and to a broader group of Americans who like the idea of harnessing the energies of young Americans to improve the country.

The administration predicts 25,000 young people would participate in the service program in its first full year, which begins Oct. 1. About 100,000 would be participating by 1997, officials predict.

This summer's pilot program is intended to put 1,000 young people to work in from four to 10 communities around the country. This program would focus on the needs of disadvantaged children. Participants would spend time tutoring, organizing recreation, working in anti-gang programs and drug clinics and tutoring in literacy programs.

Clinton urged those who wish to join this summer's pilot program should waste no time: "Drop me a card at the White House."

Legislation to enact the national service and loan proposals won't be introduced in Congress for several weeks, and many key questions remain unanswered -- including how much in educational costs the government would be willing to cover.

The government obviously could not pick up the $100,000-plus cost of a four-year Ivy League education, he said. But he suggested government aid could cover most students' financial needs, noting that the average four-year public education costs $24,000, and that the average student loans is $6,300.

Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., said Clinton's effort marked the first time since 1961 that such a service program has had presidential support.