The Peace Corps' Early Quit Rates Country-by-Country

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One excellent indication of the health of a Peace Corps country program is its early quit rate, the percentage of Volunteers who do not complete their 26-27 month term of service. The Peace Corps refers to this as the Early Termination (ET) rate.

With the ET rate, we see Volunteers talking with their feet about their experience in that program. If they quit early, an applicant should wonder about the quality of that program.

The Peace Corps invites applicants to choose the country in which they prefer to serve. Peace Corps Wiki presents the ET rate data here on a country by country basis to enable applicants to make an informed choice.

How Can the ET Rate Help Volunteer Applicants Choose Where They Should Serve?

Peace Corps Wiki recommends that applicants request to be sent to a country with a low ET rate.

Peace Corps Wiki recommends that applicants avoid any country with an ET rate of 30% or greater. They should be cautious about any country with an ET rate of more than 20%. They should request to be sent to a country with an ET rate of less than 20%.

Why would an applicant want to serve in a country with a high ET rate? Would an individual apply to a college with a poor ranking and poor graduation rates? Would he or she eat at a restaurant with poor rankings and poor health department inspections?

If the Peace Corps will not agree to send an applicant to a country with a low ET rate, the applicant should put his or her applications on hold until the Peace Corps is transparent about this crucial data.

Applicants can easily correlate the ET rate rankings with the rankings of the survey responses of the Volunteers – also posted on Wiki. When the two sets of rankings correlate, the data speaks very powerfully as to which countries to request and which to avoid.

The Ramifications of Quitting Early

Quitting early takes a heavy toll on Volunteers and on the communities in which they serve. To be blunt, quitting early is often considered to be a failure that Volunteers must explain to themselves and to family and friends. Were they not tough enough or committed enough? Do they blame the Peace Corps, an iconic agency?

Volunteers who quit early also have to explain why they are quitting to the community in which they serve. The community may well see the departure as yet another case where development programs for their benefit have failed. When a country has a high ET rate, the morale of the Volunteers who don’t quit is eroded. More and more Volunteers may hang out with one another and spend less time at their sites. This means they learn less of the language, establish weaker relationships in their community, and see fewer successes in their projects. It is best for an applicant to go to a country that is not plagued by high ET rates where they are more likely to thrive.

What the ET Rates Can Tell Us About a Country's Program

The Peace Corps does not take the initiative to provide this ET rate data to applicants. Indeed, the Peace Corps does not want applicants to have access to data that enables them to be selective. Peace Corps Wiki had to file a lawsuit in Federal District Court to secure access to the country-by-country breakouts of the Volunteer survey responses, which enable us to see the Volunteer rankings of the Peace Corps country programs. The agency forced Peace Corps Wiki to go to an appeal to secure access to the country-by-country breakouts of the Volunteer ET rates, which also enables us to see the Volunteer rankings of the Peace Corps country programs.

Why would the agency give applicants a choice of where to serve and then deprive them of the information that enables them to make an informed choice?

Peace Corps Wiki believes that the ET rates and survey rankings are mostly based on the Peace Cops management of a country program, but occasionally on some characteristic of the country. In a tough country, the enthusiasm and durability of the Volunteers is often high because Volunteers know that they have a tough assignment. They really do have the “toughest job you’ll ever love,” nothing less. One major determinant of the ET rate – and survey responses – for a country program is the leadership qualities of the Country Director, whose values and management style dominate the Volunteer experience in that country.

With these rankings – ET rates and survey responses – applicants can see which countries are well managed and which are not, which corps of Volunteers have high morale and which do not. This is evident in the actions and viewpoints of those with the most information, the current Volunteers.

The Peace Corps has been embarrassed that so many Volunteers quit early. This high early quit rate implies that the Peace Corps is recruiting poorly qualified and motivated Volunteers, wasting vast sums on training and placing Volunteers who then quit, and failing the communities in which these quitters were placed.

Overview of the Early Termination (Early Quit) Rates

Faced with these embarrassments, the Peace Corps has taken to systematically publishing misleading measures of the percentage of Volunteers who do not complete their 26-27 month term of service. It hypes and publishes an “annual” ET rate which provides no useful information about how many Volunteers fail to complete their service. The advantage to the Peace Corps of the “annual” rate is that it’s 1/4th of the “cohort” rate, which is the measure which accurately reveals how many Volunteers fail to complete their service.

We have here the Iron Law of Bureaucracy; when facts about the performance of the agency are embarrassing, hide them. The only reason why the Peace Corps has released the “cohort” rates is that the Wiki figured out how the Peace Corps was gaming the ET rates. Peace Corps Wiki’s analysis of the Peace Corps’ game regarding ET rate statistics is attached. Peace Corps Wiki is the only entity to secure accurate ET rates from the Peace Corps and to publish them. But for Wiki’s vigilance, the public – and applicants – would not know the accurate extent of the early quit rate scandal at the Peace Corps and to see how the ET rates vary country-by-country.

In FY 2011 the ET rates vary in FY 2011 from single digits (4.4% in Honduras, 7.8% in Panama,8.3% in Niger, 9.1% in Madagascar and 9.3% in Georgia) to rates exceeding 40% (57.5% in Jordan, 47.4% in Belize, 42.6% in Moldova, and 41% in Swaziland).

In FY 2012 the rates vary from single digits (3.4% in Vanuatu, 4.4% in Benin, 5.4% in Macedonia, 6.8% in Albania, and 8.8% in Mongolia) to high rates in South Africa (40%), Kenya (35.1%), Guyana (32.3%) and Guinea (31.1%).

The ET rates for FY 2013 are quite incomplete but already high in Guinea (22.7%) and Belize (21.1%).

The Peace Corps has been forced to terminate some of its programs, so not all of the countries ranked here are active. The Peace Corps programs in Kenya, Mali, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are closed.

ET data reveals the percent of Volunteers who complete their term of service (26-27 months). This is the cohort rate – which follows the Volunteers one by one to see if they finish their service. Starting about 2005, the Peace Corps has been publishing only an “annual rate” which tells us how many Volunteers quit in a given year – out of all the Volunteers who served even a single day in that year. It calls this an ET rate. This annual rate is only one-quarter of the rate of the Volunteers who complete their service. The Peace Corps prefers to talk about the annual rate rather than the cohort rate.

Using the true rate, the cohort rate, does delay the point at which the final percentage of Volunteers who complete their service is known. You have to wait at least 26-27 months before you have a final figure. But after one year, you’ll clearly see where the rate is headed. We have complete data for ET rates for FY 2011, mostly complete data for FY 2012, and quite incomplete data for ET rates for FY 2013.

The FY 2012 data includes ETs between October 1, 2011 and December 3, 2013, so the data is close to final.

For the FY 2013 data, we have only data from October 1, 2012 to December 3, 2013 – slightly more than a year. If the data for this period shows a high ET rate, then it’s easy to see that it may be much higher when all the data become known.

The Most Recent ET Rates

Below we’ve presented the ET rates for 2011, 2012 and 2013 (fiscal years). The Peace Corps may complain that these are not the most current ET rates, but it has the power to publish the most current cohort rates – in rank order. Peace Corps Wiki has found securing data from the Peace Corps under the Freedom of Information Act so difficult and painful that it will not be filing additional FOIA requests to secure updates of the ET rate data.

Peace Corps Wiki urges applicants to request the most current data from their recruitment officer. (Applicants must always ask for the cohort rate data!) If the placement officer won’t provide the data, applicants should put their applications on hold until the Peace Corps becomes transparent with applicants and enables them to make an informed choice.

Finally, Peace Corps Wiki is awaiting a response from the Peace Corps about the ET rates for each of the Peace Corps job assignments within a country, say Small Enterprise Development or AgroForestry. The ET rates for these different job assignments may vary considerably. The Wiki is aware of assignments within one country where the ET rates varied threefold from one assignment to another.

We suspect that the Peace Corps will refuse to release this data. If we get the data, we will post it here. If the Peace Corps finds a pretext for denying us this data, applicants should put their application on hold until the Peace Corps becomes transparent with applicants – and fair – and enables them to make an informed choice.

To be clear, the reason why Wiki is publishing this data is to encourage the Peace Corps to intervene to reform the poorly managed programs. If applicants use the data Wiki is providing, to become selective, the Peace Corps may reform the poorly managed programs. As Wiki explains elsewhere on the home page, the Peace Corps has no surplus of applicants among those who survive the medical screening process. This means that the Peace Corps cannot turn to other applicants to fill their quotas for the poorly ranked country programs with the highest ET rates. Peace Corps Wiki is attempting to use market forces – consumer demand – to drive reform.

Applicants have power, both to secure an invitation to serve in a well managed country and also to encourage the Peace Corps to overhaul the poorly managed countries.