More are offering grants and tuition credit to high school students who put off classes for a year or more of service.
Colleges are thinking creatively these days about linking two priorities for students: financial aid and public service.
While loan forgiveness for graduates who take service jobs has been common for years, what's catching on now is the idea of rewarding up front students who defer college to help others.
More than 80 colleges and universities have started offering some matching grants for students who earn tuition assistance through AmeriCorps. At least 1,165 have signed on to match new government grants for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And Princeton University and Dickinson College recently created programs to support public service, expecting that these students will bring a unique dimension to campus after spending time off the education track.
"We're seeing an upsurge nationally in the number of students looking for alternatives immediately following high school graduation – whether it be a 'gap year,' ... a two-year community college, or digging deeply into a service or job commitment that will allow them to ... define an interest," says Stephanie Balmer, dean of admissions at Dickinson in Carlisle, Penn.
Dickinson is accepting applicants for a new fellowship that offers $10,000 of tuition credit for every year of full-time public service, up to $40,000. With the population of high school graduates in the US expected to decline in coming years, Ms. Balmer says, the pricey private school sees it as "an opportunity align ourselves with students who have this interest."