Peace Corps smashes application record again, but what does it mean for volunteers?

A Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua. The agency celebrates a new record for the number of applications it received for its two-year volunteer opportunities — the highest since 1975. Photo by: Peace Corps

Peace Corps broke a new record for the number of applications received for two-year volunteer opportunities in the 2015 fiscal year. The agency received nearly 23,000 applications, marking a 32 percent increase over the number of applications received in 2014 — and the highest application number since 1975.

It’s a big number following a year of big changes, including implementation of the agency’s application and recruitment reforms launched in July 2014, which allow applicants to choose their country of service and apply to specific programs through a shorter application.

But for volunteers, escalating application numbers translates to increased competition; and for the agency, it means more pressure to meet higher-than-ever placement demands with the same flatlined budget.

There are currently nearly 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 63 countries worldwide. Prior to the application overhaul, the agency had been able to meet the demand of applicants, finding placements for one in three. As a result of the past year’s overwhelmingly positive response to a more volunteer-focused process, the agency won’t be able to effectively meet current demand without additional funding, a Peace Corps spokeswoman told Devex.

Suddenly, the volunteer-sending agency is finding itself in the position of having to turn away qualified applicants who otherwise would have been eligible to serve —  a challenge that is not a reflection of lack of placement opportunity, but rather lack of additional funding from Congress, the spokeswoman said.  

Current fiscal year 2015 funding for the Peace Corps is $379.5 million, five percent below the $400 million funding level for Peace Corps in 2010. In July 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee joined the House in recommending an unchanged $379.5 million level funding for Peace Corps, meaning agency support has flatlined from 2012 to 2015, and things don’t look likely to change.

If it received additional funding and could add more qualified volunteers, the agency could scale up impact in the countries where it operates by increasing the number of volunteers in the field and support new programs in high priority countries, such as the government-wide Let Girls Learn initiative and Peace Corps’ TEFL Certificate program.

The agency could also expand service opportunities by opening or reopening programs in countries that have formally requested a Peace Corps Program, the spokeswoman said. These endeavors are tabled for now — as applications continue to roll in.

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About the author

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.