OPINION: Universities should explore the possibility of requiring community service hours

Though many universities offer scholarships based on community service, few require community service hours as a part of an undergraduate degree (photo courtesy of US Navy/Flickr).
Though many universities offer scholarships based on community service, few require community service hours as a part of an undergraduate degree (photo courtesy of US Navy/Flickr).

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, one thing constantly loomed over me—Student Service Learning, or time spent volunteering in the community. We were required to complete at least 75 hours to graduate high school. I remember wondering how I could ever accomplish 75 whole hours of volunteer work. In the pursuit of SSL hours, I trained to work at a therapeutic horseback riding center for a summer.

Day in and day out, I tended to the horses and helped people with physical and mental disabilities learn equestrian skills. Sometime over the course of the summer, I forgot that I initially signed up just for SSL hours, and I began to love working with the horses and people. I ended up returning for every summer in high school, and I eventually graduated with over 200 of those dreaded SSL hours that had formerly plagued my youth with anxiety.

Working at that barn was one of the most influential experiences of my life, and I know that I had an influence on others as well. Not all schools require SSL hours to graduate, and Maryland is the only state where it is required statewide. Had I not been required to get those SSL hours, I would have missed out on a valuable experience, and a chance to better my community. Thus, I think community service requirements should be implemented at all colleges as well.

President Barack Obama said it best when he was elected: “when you choose to serve—whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood—you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans.” Obama’s encouragement of community service is awesome, but he hasn’t done anything to ensure that it happens.

Americans are lazy, and it is only a special few who do things that are not required of them. College is a great place to require community service hours, because young students are still being molded into future members of the adult world. If they can get a taste for the leadership and teamwork in community service, they could go on and use their life to make a huge different in drug abuse, homelessness, global warming, animal cruelty, disability awareness and more.

In 2008, when Obama was initially elected, he had a plan for all college students who engaged in 100 hours of community service to receive a fully refundable tax credit of $4,000 for their education. If this were to be implemented, it would be fantastic and kill two birds with one stone. Kids would engage in life changing volunteer experiences, and would be rewarded with money to pay off loans. As college students, they would already be determined and motivated to start a career, and that would show in whatever community service project they chose. In fact, regardless of what they do, helping others is part of just being a good, well rounded citizen with a healthy awareness of the world around them—something that is arguably valuable for employment in any field.

When it comes down to it, there is no reason not to have a community service requirement. People will argue about having another mandatory responsibility tacked onto their life, of course; but try and say out loud that you do not have time to help other people. That’s right, it sounds bad. It sounds bad, in fact, because it is. The people who leave a legacy in their path are not the ones who are remembered for their excellent dedication to their personal life and office job, it is those who went out of their way to help those less fortunate. College is a time to figure out who we will be as adults, and a community service requirement would assure we are shaped into valuable members of society.


Alexis Lahr is a standing freshman at Mason studying Anthropology and Nutrition. She volunteers at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, at which she hosts special interest tours on burial rituals. In her spare time, she peruses farmer’s markets and the aisles of Trader Joe’s. 

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