California sets standard

Emily Dalnodar

University degree programs require several prerequisites for graduation: composition, math and science. Next on the list could be community service.
It might happen in California, and the concept isn’t new in Minnesota, either.
California Gov. Gray Davis announced last week at a news conference that he plans to make community service a graduation requirement for students at his state’s public universities and community colleges.
The University of Minnesota has toyed with the idea in the past and isn’t immune to further discussion of integrating community involvement into the academic curriculum.
“There was, at one point, talk as to whether something like that should be a requirement for graduation,” said Craig Swan, vice provost.
Only three years ago, a University initiative to enhance undergraduate education by providing an out-of-classroom experience came close to legislation. The “Expanding Worlds” initiative would have required students to take internships, community service, study abroad or conduct undergraduate research.
The concept fizzled out after a main proponent left the University. Things just fell through the cracks after that, said Diane Rubright, Office for Special Learning Opportunities coordinator.
Implementing community service as a formal requisite taps several resources, making it no small undertaking.
“To do this right requires a lot of coordination work and a lot of dedication on the parts of the students and staff,” Swan said.
The preliminary efforts going into Davis’ expectations already echo Swan’s concerns.
“We’re looking at developing some policy options: How much should be required? How many hours? Will it be linked to credits? What would the costs be?” said Anne Bancroft, a spokeswoman with California Office of the Secretary of Education.
Bancroft said although California is only in the initial stages of developing the statewide community service initiative, Davis is very serious about his plan.
Despite the University’s own obstacles preventing a community service graduation requisite, Swan said University staff will watch California very closely and take notes.
“Will it happen here in two years? No,” Swan said. “Will it happen here over a longer period of time? I wouldn’t want to rule that out.”
Still, the University furnishes a wealth of community involvement opportunities for interested students and staff members. OSLO provides resources and programs for people to expand their education with community interaction.
Service Learning, a philosophical teaching tool, is another concept that integrates academe and public aid. The program’s approach manifests itself in a number of classes: Introduction to Sociology 1001 offers extra credits for community service; Spanish Service Learning 3401 instructs students to spend a three-hour per week minimum working with the Chicano/Latino community; Housing and Community 3463 requires students to interact with neighborhood-based organizations.
“There’s actually a lot going on, and people don’t know about it,” said Laurel Hirt, an OSLO coordinator.
The University’s efforts to combine education with public service just garnered an award Wednesday, recognizing its campus-community collaboration efforts, Hirt said.