What happens when the Job Corps goes to college?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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.

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.

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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."

'It's a tense situation," said Terri Small, vice-president of the student government, citing the cultural differences some people say have created two separate campuses even in the dining hall and the dances the two groups share.

Brian Wood, editor of the student newspaper, explained: "In general, the attitude of most Husson students is that they don't want the majority of Job Corps students here. They don't feel that they should have to put up with the socially handicapped at a private college that they pay $5,000 a year to attend."

While there have been several instances of exchanging insults, the serious confrontation that some officials have feared has never occurred, said Terri Hutchinson, assistant dean of students.

The best-known event occurred when two Job Corps girls were asked to leave a cafeteria table reserved for members of a fraternity. A shouting match ensued. The issue was quickly cleared up when it was explained to the Job Corps students what a fraternity is.

Ironically, officials say that Husson students, most of whom receive financial aid and are first-generation college students, and Job Corps students have similar backgrounds.

"The only significant difference is that one group has successfully competed and the other has not," a Husson administrator said. "One group is much more competitive than the other."

Officials are working on ways to break down the barriers between the two groups. Under one plan the Job Corps will be paying Husson students to tutor Job Corps students. Husson students will also be available to "shadow" for Job Corps students who are planning to go to college and want to know what it's like.

A fear of rejection is what keeps some Job Corps students away from Husson students, said Vicki Brochu, who came to the Job Corps from a menial job in a shoe factory. Some Job Corps students type Husson students as spoiled rich kids , she said.

And some Job Corps students react angrily to snubs and what they say are unfair characterizing of them as uncouth or lazy.

"We as individuals are hardworking, down-to-earth people, with generally a lot less prejudice [than college students]," said one student in a letter to the editor in the Bangor Daily News.

While there is little evidence of wide-scale association between the two groups, there is some evidence that a few informal relationships have evolved, however.

A small number of Job Corps students have participated in such Husson activities as the outing club, the radio station, and the band. Intramural football games started out as grudge matches but evolved into contests based on mutual respect.

Then there are the personal relationships, conversations at dining tables, and dating between some members of the groups. One Job Corps student, now employed as an auto mechanic, is remembered for helping Husson students fix their cars, something Job Corps students are not allowed to own.

Meanwhile, tolerance, if not acceptance, has replaced the outright rejection that Husson students felt at the beginning of the year, said Assistant Dean Hutchinson.

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