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Academic Service Learning
California's Call to Service


08/04/1999: Opinion: Community Service Requirement is a Bad Idea

Submitted by: Erika Freihage
The Daily Aztec
San Diego State University
August 4, 1999


On April 8, 1999, Gov. Gray Davis began pounding his educational rhetoric, which included a mandatory "community service learning graduation requirement." Now that Davis is firmly entrenched as executive of the state he has decided to implement his rhetoric. He has asked the University of California system, the California State University system and California community colleges to discuss the mandatory requirement with their respective academic senates and report back with proposals.

This begs a few questions: What is community service learning? How will it be implemented? Where does it all end?

What is community service learning?
Peggy Hashemipour, director of the community-based learning center at San Diego State University, said community service learning is an experiential education program that provides students with hands-on learning. The student spends time helping the community while learning something of interest in the process. It is similar to an internship, but with less emphasis on career advancement and more about providing a need in the community.

She also said that 22 of the 23 CSU campuses have a community service learning program. However, the only state university that requires it is CSU Monterey Bay.

The idea of a mandatory community service learning requirement is an oxymoron. Mandatory volunteerism is impossible. Davis' proposal would take the sincerity our of donating time for nothing into a self-serving unwanted scheduling nightmare. If his purpose is really ensconced in the nobility of getting student to pay back the taxpayers by shoving state mandates down their throats, this is not the best way to accomplish his goal. It will only create resentment from students and hassles for administrators.

How will this be implemented?
This raises too many questions that many institutions are not ready to answer or willing to answer. How many hours is enough to satisfy the requirement? Can you choose your program or organization, or will you choose from a preordained list? Can you donate your time to a church, or is that a violation of the separation of church and state? Will more faculty have to be hired to track student records? If so, will that trigger an increase in student fees? Will this requirement be added to the current requirements, or will it replace another? If it does replace another what is the school willing to sacrifice for this requirement? . . . etc.

If there are this many initial problems, maybe the governor's plan is less of a plan and more of a feel-good idea. The problem with feel-good legislation is that is sounds good, but it's not practical. Even Erika Freihage, coordinator of community service learning at the chancellor's office, said she is "cautiously optimistic" about the proposal.

Where does it all end?
If we are forced to do mandatory community service in college, what other mandates lie ahead? Maybe the study of every culture? That would add at least 50 units. Or maybe a comprehensive understanding of English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, . . . etc. it would only add another 50 units.

The average undergraduate has to take 134 units. What Davis doesn't realize is that the best way for undergraduates to give back to the community is to graduate in less than five years, start working in their fields and make a difference in their communities as soon as possible.

Delaying students with more requirements is the worst idea to foster interest in helping their communities. No one likes to be forced to do a little something extra, especially when that person is taking 15 units, working 25 hours a week and trying to keep some semblance of a healthy life.

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Last Updated: June 08, 2016