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What happens when the Job Corps goes to college?

By Wayne ReillySpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 26, 1981

Bangor, Maine

Jack Bailey dropped out of Skowhegan, Maine, High School when he was only a freshman. Yet today, even though he is still working on his high school diploma , he's a member of the Husson College student government, plays intramural football against fraternity members, and lives in a dormitory at the private four-year business college.

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Mr. Bailey is part of an innovative experiment to see what happens when nearly 300 Job Corps youths rub shoulders with college students.

The theory, said Bill Eisenardt, deputy director of the Bangor center, is that college students can provide "peer role models" whose middle-class values and habits should rub off on the dropouts and underemployed youths. The latter attend their own classes and live in their own dormitory at the edge of the campus, but they can use Husson facilities and participate in many college activities.

Bailey, who was elected president of the Job Corps student body, says the college atmosphere has benefited him.

"Living in the dorm has given me a taste of college life, and that's influenced me to go on to college," he said. Three Job Corps students have already enrolled at Husson full time, and several others have enrolled at nearby Bangor Community College, a branch of the University of Maine.

But the relationship between the Job Corps and the college is still fragile, as I found out while interviewing officials and students. While some progress has been made since last spring, when the Job Corps first arrived, nearly everyone interviewed said social tensions exist just beneath the surface.

And college officials have indicated that they are afraid the college's image may be tarnished if things don't go smoothly. But acceptance of the program, described as a "calculated risk" by one official, has brought in over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue and helped fill a dormitory and empty class- rooms that have posed a problem since enrollment dropped off in the 1960s.

Last summer some Job Corps students irritated Bangor police and citizens by committing acts of vandalism and burglaries in the neighborhood around the college. Job Corps officials said they were unaware that lawbreakers were being sent to the facility in lieu of punishment.

Husson president Delmont Merrill says he is satisfied that that problem has been cleared up. At the time, 30 Job Corps students were expelled, 20 left voluntarily, several dormitory staff left or were removed, and rules were tightened up.

Merrill also says that other objectionable, noncriminal behavior has cleared up since last spring. "At that time the Job Corps students' behavior was at best obstreperous and was typified by foul language, impolite conduct toward others, even, at times, indecent exposure. Today there is little evidence of such behavior," he told the college's board of trustees in December.

But a number of regular college students still object to having the Job Corps on their campus. They cite social differences between themselves and Job Corps students, as well as a feeling that they no longer have any facilities or activities they "can call their own."