College Requires Community Service – But NOT Career Study!

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Article suggests college require students invest minimum time in career planning:

In the mid to late 90’s, high schools and colleges had a huge upswing in administration mandating students to complete a specific number of “community service” hours in order to graduate.

There was a general “group think” among community leaders, administrators, and legislatures that requiring students to participate in community service projects would help introduce them to the value of giving back, while at the same time it would be a good way they could repay the community for subsidizing their educations.

In Nassau County, New York, the Roslyn and Hewlett-Woodmere districts approved a program that required students, beginning with the class of 1997, to take a one-semester, half-credit, community-service course and to complete a minimum of 30 hours of field work to graduate.  (This was raised to 40 hours for the next class.)  A neighboring county, Suffolk, instituted a similar program. Then Superintendent John G. Barnes was quoted to say, “We believe that community service is a must for all students.”

These experiments in developing mandated community service programs at the local level bubbled up to the state level.

In 1997, the state of Maryland instituted a statewide mandatory community service high school graduation requirement.  The law stipulated that students who attend public high schools complete a minimum of 75 community service hours.

A student reflected on first hearing about this requirement at a school assembly.

“I heard our principal say – Look to your left, look to your right.  I guarantee some of you won’t graduate because of the community service requirement.  You can be a 4.0 student and get into any college you want, but you won’t graduate because of the community service requirement.” 

The student’s first reaction?  “Whoa, they are serious about this!”

Even without mandated community service programs, as the admissions process to college became more competitive, students were advised to complete community service in order to improve their chances of being admitted.

As a result of political, cultural, and legislative focus on community service, the number of college students who participated in community services while in high school has steadily increased over the past two decades.  According to the Cooperative Intuitional Research Program, about one-third of first-year college students graduated from high schools with some type of requirement for service.

Most colleges embraced community service as a founding principal of their college.   Harvard and Yale were founded to educate missionaries who could spread out into the distant areas of the growing United States and carry the Presbyterian message.    The College of William and Mary was founded to produce graduates that could minister to Indians and attempt to convert them to Christianity. 

Look at the missions of almost any college and you will see community service being a core part of the college culture.   Some, over time, like the high schools, mandated community service hours in order for students to graduate.

  • Tougaloo College requires students, by graduation, to complete 60 hours of community service that is approved by the chair of their departments.
  • Mercy College of Health Sciences requires students to complete a 20-hour community service project.  The project includes volunteering and submitting a report about their activities.  There is no grade or credit provided.
  • Southern University in Louisiana, a public university, requires 60 hours of community service in order to graduate.  The college has actually created community service classes that teach community engagement.
  • Liberty University has required community service of their students since it was founded and offers students over 350 different locations for students to volunteer.  They also require students to complete two single hour community service classes their first year of full time enrollment.
  • The University of Redlands requires students to take a 3-unit service activity course that places students in programs focused on homeless shelters, pre-schools, police departments, safe-havens and various other nonprofit agencies.  Each year students invest over 60,000 hours in these programs

Other colleges may not require students to commit a specific number of community service volunteer hours, but do their best to provide channels and build enthusiasm for community service.

  • Loyola College offers students the Loyola4Chicago program as one of many channels to volunteer.  Students agree to spend 4 hours a week in service teams at various sites, including working with children, immigrants, and people with mental illness, as well as people experiencing homelessness and others.
  • Eastern Connecticut State University offers students regular events that build camaraderie and positive community experiences through their Poverty Marathon and Day of Giving events.
  • George Washington University organizes an annual Freshman Day of Service. The event focus changes from year to year but immediately indoctrinates students into a culture of giving back to the community.  It’s not unusual for GWU students to spend over 160,000 hours a year volunteering.  
  • Stanford University dedicates 22.3 percent of its work study funds toward programs that help the community and society in general.  Program dollars support autism awareness and bringing dance to prisoners, as well as greening up South African schools.
  • San Francisco State University, like many universities, has a department dedicated to raising awareness of community service.  Their Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, has over 7,000 students enrolled in its Community Service Learning program, which blends service projects with course work in order to educate and stimulate a culture of “giving back” to the community.
  • Willamette University’s Office of Community Service Learning provides a database of 250 charities and causes for students to participate in.  Students have enthusiastically responded by investing 150,000 hours of community service work.
  • Lee University takes a different tack and offers course credit to students who participate in or create volunteer opportunities.
  • To increase awareness and participation in community service, Ohio Wesleyan University makes heroes of students who rack up the most volunteer hours.  Each year, they host the “Golden Bishops” ceremony that awards students who have been the most philanthropically engaged.
  • North Carolina State University had over 21,000 students spend 330,000 hours during 2010 and 2011 helping serve disadvantaged youth and support early childhood literacy.
  • Seattle University’s administration made $50,000 available for college faculty and staff to implement projects and engage volunteers to support community projects.

While some might speculate that requiring students to participate in community service programs would in fact generate negative feelings towards the concept of giving back to the community, surveys indicate otherwise.  Liberty University conducted a survey to determine if they should continue to require students to fulfill a community service requirement in order to graduate.  

  • Seventy percent supported the requirement to commit volunteer in community service projects.
  • Seventy six percent said they had a positive attitude about performing the required community service.
  • There were a variety of reasons students offered why they participated which ranged from, helping people to feeling good about themselves and improving the community, as well as (a small minority ) improving their resumes.

To help colleges and universities advance their strategies and operate as a clearing house of best practices and resources, a national organization called Campus Compact was founded in 1985 by Brown, Georgetown and Stanford Universities. 

There are currently 1,200 dues-paying colleges and universities with college members that represent over 6 million students.  The program reaches to the highest level of the university, the presidents, to help drive the message through their cultures and continues to support the initiatives and events that drive student engagement in volunteer programs.

In fact, Campus Compact developed a statement of purpose it asks the presidents of its member institutions to agree to.  The President’s Declaration on Civic Responsibility of Higher Education offers a foundation for the organization and presidents’ commitments to community engagement.  In the President’s Statement of Principles, the first principle highlights their commitments:

Campus Compact presidents strongly advocate the participation of students, faculty, staff, and higher education institutions in public and community service. Such service may range from individual acts of student volunteerism to institution-wide efforts to improve the social and economic well-being of America’s communities.

And it works!

The total value of service contributed by students at Campus Compact member schools is estimated to be over 7 billion dollars based on the 377 million volunteer service hours contributed each year.

So why did I cover so much detail here?

I hope I didn’t lose you in all the detail and information shared on colleges’ and universities’ commitments to community service.  The practices and college commitments are admirable and necessary.  The students who donate the hours and are the backbone of the program are to be commended for their participation, regardless of whether it is required,

My goal in giving you all of this detail is to show how embedded in the college culture the concept of community service is.  In the example above I shared:

  1. Colleges that set specific hours required for students to graduate
  2. Organizations that provide funding to support new initiatives and staffing for volunteer projects
  3. Departments funded on campus with names like Community Service Outreach, supported by student activity funds 
  4. Administrators at the highest level who are active participants in promulgating the culture

While volunteerism is important, in my opinion, the career center and career development should be at the center of the college experience.  Everything a student does, every club, organization, work-study program, course and activity should tie in – in some manner to the relevance to the end game, giving grads the practical skills to search for and get jobs–a process they will likely go through 20 or more times in their lives.

I’d like to see the presidents of all colleges and universities to do as they did when they joined Campus Compact and sign a President’s Declaration of Commitment to Career Planning and Management.   That declaration would signal the importance the president places on increasing the number of grads who get jobs within their career fields of choice and get jobs by –or soon after– graduation day.

You can help this happen.  Contact your college administrators and ask them to participate.  Let us know if we can offer any help!



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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

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