IMAGE: Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M.
Presidential hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., want sto give high school graduates college tuition in exchange for public service.
updated 10/11/2007 9:22:47 AM ET 2007-10-11T13:22:47

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson was unveiling an education plan Thursday that would give college students access to $3.6 billion in free tuition in exchange for public service.

Richardson, the Democratic governor of New Mexico, said he would give any graduate up to $24,000 - enough to pay tuition for four years at an average public university. For every year of service, students could earn two years' credit.

"The spirit of service is alive and well in our country," Richardson said Wednesday in a statement to the AP. "As president, I will create a national service program that pays two years of college for one year of service. We need more college graduates. And we need more men and women who are willing to serve their fellow citizens."

The service plan comes in conjunction with what his campaign is billing as a major education speech at a Manchester high school.

Under the plan, recent graduates could join the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or Teach for America to earn back their college tuition. New graduates could also become firefighters, police officers or teachers in underserved areas.

The plan would cover students from community colleges to those pursuing graduate degrees and medical degrees.

"My idea of education is between 3 and 99 years of age," he said during a campaign stop in September where he hinted at the plan.

The plan would be in addition to existing incentives, such as military education programs. It would cover fees, though not other education costs, such as room and board, and books.

"As part of your college loan structure - in other words we'll pay them off, if you give your country one year of national service: work in a forest, clean up a forest ... work in a hospital, go in the military, go in the Peace Corps, go in Vista," Richardson said in September.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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