Value of College Community Service

– By Sagar Doshi

As the sun sets, the entire stadium rests in silence. The wind has settled and the moment lays timeless. Children attempt to climb on parents’ shoulders for a peek and the elderly rise in respect of those fallen. All eyes are focused on the stadium bleachers, and as expected, a single light from the distance ignites. Steadily another light appears, and then another; the public starts to cheer. The reflection of a well-lit candle can be seen from each eye and a smile appears on the faces of many. The lights fall in a pattern, gradually forming a four letter word. Everyone stands in awe, taking in the moment which will forever be remembered in their hearts. One word. One mission. One dream. HOPE.

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For all four years of high school I participated in Relay For Life – an event that raises funds and awareness for the American Cancer Society – and still, every year this moment seems to revive my passion for supporting the community. After participating in Relay For Life as a student council member my freshman year, I finally started to realize that one person can make a difference. It was simple to me: I donated $100.00 and that money was going to help somebody. Although my peers and I were not required to participate in this event, we chose to because our teachers highly recommended it to us. Four years later, I felt honored organizing Relay For Life at my school as student council president. I wished to see more participants of my generation join an event that not only contributed to a cause we believed in, but which instilled a new appreciation for life. More than a mere high school service project, this community event still laid the foundation for our participation in service events for the future. We came to acknowledge that community service is instrumental in making our world a better place at a young age. Acknowledging that I was an upperclassman in high school and potential college student, I was in the prime of my life to have an opportunity to make a large impact towards the well-being of others. Now as a rising junior in college, I am involved with organizations and clubs that focus on helping the needy and fundraising for proper research such as University of Maryland’s Relay For Life and Students Helping Honduras. I value community service because I had the experience of a lifetime at Relay For Life. But now I wonder: Has everyone else in college had this “experience” which enables them to value community service? If not, should community service be an essential component of the college education which possesses the universal mission to educate its students on “improving society?”

There is undoubtedly a tremendous amount of positive upside generated from participating in community service. Aside from the monetary contributions, participating in community service can positively affect an individual’s personal, social, and cognitive mindset. Developing an opinion concerning community involvement is more plausible during college since these students are just beginning to be true participants in their local community. For example, in a study of service learning requirement for college students, “students who provided community service as part of a one credit ‘community service laboratory’ showed a significant increase in their belief that people can make a difference, that they should be involved in community service and particularly in leadership and political influence, and in their commitment to perform volunteer service the following semester.” These college students also tended to be “less likely to blame social service clients for their misfortunes and more likely to stress a need for equal opportunity.” As students grow and mature in their college years, they tend to realize what is important in life and prioritize their actions accordingly. This can be applicable to coursework, social life, and community service. When a student has an experience such as taking this one credit community service laboratory, they then have the capability to draw conclusions on the importance of community service.

Another example can be found with students from Columbia University who participated in an alternative Spring Break trip to Mullens, West Virginia. The students are described as lining in an area where “rural poverty can seem distant, unimportant, and unworthy of our consideration.” However, after these “16 Columbia University students rebuilt porches, repaired roofs, literally shoveled mud from the side of a mountain,” they came to realize a responsibility they hold. Although these students were not originally familiar with rural poverty, after physically experiencing the conditions they have learned that they can “make tangible differences in places like Mullens.” Similarly, community service in college allows more students to partake in matters that are relevant to not just the local college community, but the global community. If certain community service activities such as alternative spring breaks or one credit community service laboratories were requirements of the college education, how beneficial would that be in developing the mindset of every single college student?

On the other side, typical college students have many tasks to worry about. From mid-term exams to part-time jobs, college students have a lot of responsibilities when it comes to their college education. Research reports that 70-80 percent of students work while they are enrolled in college and an overall 62.4 percent of students participate in extracurricular activities. Would making community service an essential component of the college education over-stress students on their path to graduation? These students may not have the time, money, or energy to participate in a mandatory community service event. It could quite possibly become overwhelming to students if they participated in service learning programs that required a full focus and effort.

Another issue that forms with compulsory community service as a portion of the college education is the true appreciation of volunteerism. The true internal passion for volunteering and supporting others could potentially be in danger if students are obligated to be civically engaged. For instance, a survey conducted with 273 college student non-volunteers, required volunteers, and non-required volunteers concluded that “non-required volunteers reported stronger commitment to and satisfaction with their university as well as stronger internal and weaker external motivation to volunteer than did required volunteers.” Some students tend to be active in the community simply for resume enhancement or personal profit, and therefore the possible “experience of a lifetime” potentially becomes a false highlight of character on a resume.

So what should colleges really do? Should they simply attempt to deal with the possible negative aftershocks of including community service as a component of the student education? Or should they take a more passive role, and hope that students find the self-satisfaction of civic engagement on their own? Ideally, if the well-being of others truly means something to every student then no requirement would ever be needed. Maybe the best answer lies in college students themselves.


*Disclaimer: The views represented here are the opinions of the individual blog author and do not represent the views of Oikocredit USA.


2 thoughts on “Value of College Community Service

  1. Love this post! I can imagine a Universities hesitation to make any of this mandatory. However, alumni are a great source of value when it comes to relating their experience post-grad. I love when I get to talk about my work at college campus’. I believe that students want to be more involved in their communities but they want someone that they trust to guide them there. I believe that Alumni should take a more active role in creating options for students to make a difference through community service.

  2. Great post, Sagar. This is specific to University of Maryland, but in many programs, community service is a mandatory part of the curriculum. Any student in the College Park Scholars Program goes on a community service trip the weekend before school starts. In the Public Leadership Scholars program (the one I was in) we had a semester long Community-Based Learning project (they liked that name better than community service because it highlights that impact goes both ways).

    I think a powerful aspect of mandatory community service not mentioned explicitly in your post is the potential for community-building. From day 1, the Scholars Program gives students a common experience where they can bond during the project, and share and reflect after. I think being able to look back fondly with a classmate (and ideally friend) was critical to building community and creating a more meaningful experience. I would be more skeptical of one-off service projects where you’ve never met your fellow volunteers before and will never see them again.

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